Holding on or letting go? Patient experiences of control, context, and care in oral esketamine treatment for treatment-resistant depression: A qualitative study
Ketamine and its enantiomer esketamine represent promising new treatments for treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Esketamine induces acute, transient psychoactive effects. How patients perceive esketamine treatment, and which conditions facilitate optimal outcomes, remains poorly understood. Understanding patient perspectives on these phenomena is important to identify unmet needs, which can be used to improve (es)ketamine treatments.
To explore the perspectives of TRD patients participating in “off label” oral esketamine treatment.
Materials and methods
In-depth interviews were conducted with 17 patients (11 women) after a six-week, twice-weekly esketamine treatment program, and subsequently after six months of at-home use. Interviews explored participants’ perspectives, expectations, and experiences with esketamine treatment. Audio interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed following an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) framework.
Key themes included overwhelming experiences; inadequate preparation; letting go of control; mood states influencing session experiences; presence and emotional support, and supportive settings. Patients’ attempts to let go and give into vs. attempts to maintain control over occasionally overwhelming experiences was a central theme. Multiple factors influenced patients’ ability to give into the experience and appeared to impact their mood and anxiety about future sessions, including level of preparation and education, physical and emotional support, and setting during the session.
Better preparation beforehand, an optimized treatment setting, and emotional and psychological support during (es)ketamine sessions can help patients to “let go” and may lead to better quality of care and outcomes. Recommendations to improve quality of patient care in (es)ketamine treatment are provided, including suggestions for the training of nurses and other support staff.