Stressed out

New resource aims to help pharmacists confront stress in a profession with higher than average suicide rates 

A new resource has been launched by the Pharmacists’ Support Service as it faces increasing rates of stressed and struggling pharmacist calling on its counsellors.

Call rates to the PSS spiked last year to around an average of 5 to 7 pharmacists per week, and have remained at that level, its vice president Gillian Swinnerton told AJP.

“We know that pharmacists are more likely to commit suicide that the general public and we want to help and address that,” she said.

A survey last year that was promoted through various pharmacy organisations increased awareness of PSS and saw a “spike in people reaching out to us, about a 60% increase,” she said.

“We thought this would fade away, but it hasn’t. We used to have 3-4 calls a week, now its generally 5-7”.

To help pharmacists’ cope with this and identify strategies to aid them, PSS launched – at APP2018 – a new manual called Managing Stress in Pharmacy.

The journal, which was developed with assistance from APPCO (publishers of AJP) is available from the PSS website and can be downloaded for free.

“It presents information in short sharp jabs and is easy to read,” Ms Swinnerton said. “For every employee pharmacist there’s a job satisfaction chart, that you can measure to find out what may actually be wrong”.

The resource advises the importance of being healthy in yourself, taking rest breaks, being fit, active socially, eating properly and getting away from the source of the stress, she said.

It also encourages them to seek help when there are problems and to make early contact with available resources such as PSS counsellors.

“We love to get these calls, it’s people reaching out to us and seeking help early, confronting issues when they may still be small and before they become something big,” she said. 

A lack of early support programs while at student level may be a contributing factor to pharmacists’ struggle to cope with these issues of stress says PDL NSW director Curtis Ruhnau.

Curtis is passionate about increasing pharmacist’s awareness of their own mental health, but says a lack of systemic training is letting the profession down.

“I’ve tutored med students and first year med students are given a tutorial where they’re taught about workplace stress, the stress of being low on the totem pole, and not being able to do much about problems,” he said.

“However, in a recent presentation I gave to 200-odd pharmacy students, about 20 had done some sort of mental health training, and of those, only two felt this training had prepared them for their own stress rather than dealing with someone else’s stress”.

“Our med students are getting this training in their first semester yet our pharmacy students are not getting this at all. I would love to see this change. I think it’s an idea whose time is well overdue”.

This lack of early training can later be a hindrance, Mr Ruhnau said.

“We see pharmacies on their worst days and try to talk them through that, but by this stage its difficult to use some of the strategies they should have been taught long ago”.

He says one of the best strategies is just talking to each other.

“I would love to see something informal with pharmacists just being able to talk to each other, and say at the end of the day ‘we made it, how are you? I know that was stressful, but you got through it'”.

“It;s about letting each other know that you can listen and debrief together.We need to be there for each other. We’re quite good at it, but we could be a lot better”.

Click here to see Curtis Ruhnau speak about stress in pharmacy.

Are  you feeling stressed, anxious or overworked? Contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910 (8am to 11pm) to speak with a volunteer pharmacist counsellor.

A free PSS manual, Managing Stress in Pharmacy, is available here.


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  1. Paige

    Combine long hours, poor working conditions, dealing with the wraith of the general public, and then tie it all up with being the lowest paid health professional in the industry. Are any of us surprised at this??

    We train 4 years, then complete a very low paying training year for an entry wage of $26.28, but hey if you work for the next 10 years you might convince your boss you are experienced enough to deserve $28.78.

    Radiographers work 4 years and go straight into a ~$32-38 dollar an hour position. The guild need to reconsider their stance on an award wage increase to align us with our colleagues in health professions.

  2. William

    Apart from talking to other pharmacists which is a good idea one needs to take care that it does not become a “bitching session”. Doing some physical activity such as gym work and relaxation exercises helps reduce stress.

  3. Philip Smith

    Hold on a minute.
    But the guild says there has been no increase in workload to justify a increase I the award rate?
    Is this empirical evidence showing the guild is wrong???

  4. GlassCeiling

    Interested to hear from the PSS and issues that are provocing the greatest stress.

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