How can Pharmacists play a role in mental health?

This World Mental Health Day, we’re talking about the impact that Pharmacists and Pharmacy staff can have in supporting mental well-being and improving outcomes for people with mental illness.

Why focus on mental health in your Pharmacy?

Because there is a genuine need. In 2017-18 in Australia, 4.2 million people (16.8% of the Australian population) received mental health-related prescriptions, at an average of 9.1 prescriptions per person. There were approximately 37.7 million mental health-related prescriptions (subsidised and under co-payment) provided and 70.0% of all mental health-related prescriptions were antidepressant medications[1].

Pharmacists help to ensure the safe and efficacious use of medicines, providing clear and concise drug information to patients and other health care professionals. Pharmacists play an influential role in promoting medication adherence and are well positioned to detect and resolve or prevent drug related problems. They can help people to navigate the support services available. They can also reinforce primary prevention and health promotion and lifestyle changes in their local community[2]. All of which is vital in providing care for mental health. 

How can Pharmacists and Pharmacy staff play a role in mental health?

1. Medication management

A core part of community Pharmacy scope of practice in the mental health space includes medication management and adherence.

The Pharmacy should assess what they can do to be approachable and help customers be comfortable and open with talking about their medication concerns with the Pharmacist. That can include:

  • Ensuring there is sufficient privacy
  • Adopting language and behaviour that reduces stigma, shows empathy and builds trust
  • Letting your customers and community know that they can feel safe to discuss mental health concerns in your Pharmacy, e.g. by running awareness campaigns or using signage to reduce stigma and encourage conversations. If you have team members trained in mental health first aid, make it known!

It goes without saying, the importance and core role of Pharmacists getting out from the dispensary and providing medication counselling, especially on every new prescription. It is worth self-evaluating the space and manner in which this is happening, e.g. is there sufficient privacy? If this isn’t happening on all new prescriptions (at least) in your Pharmacy, what workflow changes and role reviews can be made to ensure that key counselling points are provided in an effective way? Do you encourage people receiving new medications to contact you if they have any questions or concerns about their medicines?

There are a number of ways Pharmacy can help make managing medications easier, such as:

  • MedsChecks – providing the time and privacy for the person to sit down and discuss
    their medications with their Pharmacist can help address concerns they might have,
    along with improving understanding and adherence.
  • Prescription reminder service – to make it easier for the person to remember to refill
    their script, and provide convenience by being able to order from their phone ready
    for pickup. Linking this with script on file also increases customer retention, which
    apart from the obvious business outcome also benefits relationship building.
  • Delivery options – this can be a significant comfort to patients who might be worried
    about running out of their medication if they can’t get to the Pharmacy. But do your
    patients know that you offer this service?
  • Emergency supply – while we are talking about running out of medications, how
    many of your patients would realise that they should talk to their Pharmacist if they
    are worried about running out of their medicines? Perhaps a gentle reminder every
    now and then when they are collecting their scripts how important it is not to run
    out, and to contact you if they ever feel stuck.
  • Dose Administration Aids – whether it be to help improve adherence, provide
    confidence to the person about their doses, or simply for convenience.

These services might seem obvious to Pharmacy staff, but how many of your patients are aware of these little-known services that can make a big difference to their day to day?

2. Connecting people with support services

Pharmacists and staff are in a key position to help people with mental health concerns to navigate the support services available to them, and help connect them with services. This aligns with one of the CP2025 pathways, Health Hub.

3. Support your customers

This is a whole article in itself, but suffice to say that trained and aware Pharmacy staff are in a good position to recognise when someone is suffering with a mental health concern, and to be able to support them to seek help. Learning appropriate language, behaviour and responses that reduce stigma, show empathy and build trust can make a significant difference to your relationship with your customers and the community, and can be extremely professionally rewarding. This is where all Pharmacy staff can benefit from undergoing Mental Health First Aid training.

4. Running an awareness campaign

Hosting a community event can be an effective and fun way to raise awareness of mental health and show your community that you are approachable. It could be as simple as a morning tea, or you could put on an educational event and invite speakers such as a local support organisation, hospital mental health team member, psychologist, and influential person who can share personal experiences. R U OK? Day in September and World Mental Health Day in October are relevant dates for an event.

During September – October, Pharmacy Catalyst members have been focusing on Mental Health in their Pharmacies and community through the EasyClinic Health Solutions program. They have been running an awareness campaign that Pharmacy staff are approachable to discuss mental health concerns and questions about medications, and that Pharmacists can help people find services that are available locally for help or support. This built on putting knowledge from Mental Health First Aid training into practice. Behind the scenes, the clinical activity focused on improving medication adherence for people with depression.

The Health Solution included staff training guide, video, and content for the Pharmacies to use on social media and their websites.

Pharmacy Catalyst members have really gotten behind the initiative, running community events and team events for R U OK?Day, setting up mindfulness spaces, implementing a quiet hour and going out for a walk with the team.

 Mental health in the workplace

All of us, whether employers or employees, can contribute to creating a safe and healthy workplace. The R U OK? website (ruok.org.au) has great resources available for understanding how to start healthy conversations around mental wellbeing.

You could do something similar to what the instigo team did recently and run a morning tea team event with a discussion around mental health, training on the signs to recognise if a colleague may need support, and how to ask the question if you are concerned about someone. The training drew from learnings from team members’ Mental Health First Aid accreditation and utilised the presentation resources from ruok.org.au.

Sometimes it is simple things that can make a positive difference to the work environment, such as a weekly stretch session for the team:

In the Pharmacy workplace, there are resources available for Pharmacists needing support or to improve the health of their working environment:

1. Support service: The Pharmacists’ Support Service

This service offers a listening ear, with volunteer counsellors providing information, support and referrals. Visit www.supportforpharmacists.org.au or phone 1300 244 910 for the cost of a local call.

2. Guidance document: Managing stress in Pharmacy. Creating a healthier working environment in Pharmacy by managing workplace stress.

This document provides practical advice for Australian Pharmacists and Pharmacy support staff, and can be accessed from: https://www.supportforpharmacists.org.au/images/managing-stress-in-pharmacy-au-2018.pdf

Pharmacy care in the mental health space can be impactful and rewarding. As an effective starting point, all Pharmacy staff should consider undergoing Mental Health First Aid accreditation. Pharmacists can help connect people with mental health concerns to support services, improve awareness in the community, and improve medication outcomes.

For more information on how we can help your Pharmacy grow and support your community please contact us today!

 

[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Mental Health Services In Australia webpage accessed 31/7/19 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/mental-health-services/mental-health-services-in-australia/report-ontents/mental-health-related-prescriptions

[2] https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/10/10967/htm