Incarcerated Women's Experiences and Beliefs About Psychotropic Medication: An Empirical Study

Kia J. Bentley, Virginia Commonwealth University
Rachel C. Casey, Virginia Commonwealth University

Originally published at


Objective: Research has consistently shown that incarcerated women experience mental illness at disproportionate rates and heavily use psychiatric medication. This study examined factors related to incarcerated women's experiences and beliefs about psychotropic medications.

Methods: The researchers conducted a survey with 274 women incarcerated at a medium-security correctional institution in a Mid-Atlantic state. A 35-item questionnaire was created that solicited data on, among other things, experiences with and perceptions of psychotropic medication use and locus of control.

Results: Over three-quarters of participants (77%) reported currently taking psychotropic medication, and antidepressants were most common (93%). Of those taking psychotropic medication, more than half (51%) took more than one type. Univariate analyses indicated strong endorsement of questionnaire items related to positive effects of medication and personal agency in decision making about medication use. Current medication use predicted perceptions of more positive therapeutic effects (p<.001) and higher impact of medication on life (p<.001). External locus of control predicted four aspects of experience with psychotropic medication, including a decreased perception of personal agency regarding medication use (p=.038) and a greater likelihood of experiencing stigma related tomedication use (p<.01).

Conclusions: Psychotropic medication use during incarceration is a complex phenomenon that is related not only to perceived therapeutic effects of medication but also to issues of impact, personal agency, locus of control, stigma, and perceived biological vulnerability.