The Capital Chemist in Wanniassa has won the Promotion, Prevention and Early Intervention award at the ACT Mental Health Week Awards this week.
The Award, from the ACT Mental Health Consumer Network, recognises a range of strategies the pharmacy has put into place in the mental health arena, particularly in the area of suicide prevention and awareness.
“One of our team members took her own life, and since then we’ve trained all our staff in mental health first aid,” explains managing partner Elise Apolloni.
The 16-year-old pharmacy assistant, who took her own life in April 2015, was a much valued part of the team. Following her death, her colleagues decided to focus on mental health to help protect the pharmacy’s patients.
“Now, we’re the only pharmacy recognised in the country on the mental health first aid website with a gold status,” says Apolloni.
“We do a heap of health promotion around mental health. We often ask our customers the hard questions, and have referral pathways in place to make sure that people get the help they need in a timely manner.
“A couple of other pharmacies rely on us for advice in tricky situations, now – for example a colleague had a customer who was having a hard time post-discharge from the mental health unit, so we were able to chat about how to move them through the system in the most beneficial way.”
Apolloni is also a Lifeline counsellor; she says Capital Chemists will receive training in mental health from November in the ACT.
She urges other pharmacists and pharmacy assistants to look at gaining mental health skills and strategies.
“We’re frontline primary health care professionals, and we see people other health professionals don’t see.
“Because we’re the frontline, we have a responsibility to the public to make sure that if we’re the only health professional a person comes into contact with, they still get the right care at the right time in the right place.
“This is important because we know that people who are helped early with mental illness have much better outcomes.”
She says that while certain organisations have done great work to shift stigma around some mental illnesses, such as depression, other illnesses – including anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and suicidal ideation – are not as well understood or accepted by the community.
“There’ll probably always be a little bit of stigma, but I think to reduce it we should look at mental illness as no different from physical illness.
“And in the physical illnesses we treat, mental illness is more common anyway – for example, if you have diabetes you’re more likely to develop a mental illness because you already have a chronic illness.
“We need to remove this perception that mental illness and physical illness are different things.”