What are patients' experiences of discontinuing clozapine and how does this impact their views on subsequent treatment?

Jennifer Southern*, Phil Elliott, Ian Maidment

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Discontinuing what is considered the most effective treatment for treatment-resistant schizophrenia may precipitate feelings of failure or a relapse of illness. Clozapine treatment is discontinued for a variety of reasons, including non-adherence, intolerance, or lack of efficacy. Patients' experiences of discontinuing the "best" treatment and the impact on perceptions of subsequent antipsychotic treatment are important in developing an understanding of the factors affecting people's treatment choices. This study is the first of its type, seeking to explore people's perspectives on clozapine discontinuation.

METHOD: Semi-structured interviews with sixteen patients who had received clozapine and discontinued treatment-thirteen males and three females, age range: thirty-two to seventy-eight years old-were audio-recorded and transcribed. A modified inductive approach to analysis, based on grounded theory, was taken to identify commonalities and differences in patients' perceptions.

RESULTS: The three main themes identified from participants' experiences were: (1) positive and negative effects of treatment; (2) feelings of agency, being the capacity to make decisions about treatment and act independently; (3) choice of treatment in the future. Participants exhibited agency in making choices about medication, including risking relapse, while attempting self-management of medication effects. Different participants perceived the same side effect as beneficial or intolerable. Variation in subsequent treatment choices was reported, with some participants favouring depot (long-acting) injections. A participant was frightened when not told about clozapine's side effects, which led to the participant not being engaged in future treatment decisions. Others, despite suffering serious adverse effects, retained positive perceptions of clozapine; they experienced despair at finding an effective alternative.

CONCLUSIONS: Experiences with clozapine discontinuation evoked powerful emotions and resulted in clozapine being the benchmark for other treatments. Knowledge, agency, and being in control were important to participants in relation to treatment. Personal perceptions of treatments or beliefs about illness could lead to non-adherence. People value the clinician listening to their experiences to better understand their perspective, enabling concerns about medication to be addressed through true shared decision making.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: NHS Health Research Authority and Health and Care Research Wales, IRAS Project ID 225753, Research Ethics Committee (REC) reference: 18/NW/0413, 25/06/2018.

Original languageEnglish
Article number353
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright The Authors 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence

Funding Information:
Lesley Gledhill and Jim McCaffery, patient and public involvement representatives; Mike Lloyd, psychologist; Vicky Bramwell, librarian, all employed at Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Chester, CH2 1BQ at the time of the study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Clozapine
  • Shared decision making
  • Antipsychotic agents
  • Treatment adherence and compliance
  • Emotions


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