Have you found it easy to find mental health support?

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COVID has hit the mental health of Australia’s pharmacists hard, according to a new poll

At the time of writing, early three-quarters of respondents to the AJP’s latest poll said that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a hit to their mental health.

When asked how the crisis has impacted their mental health, 16% said the damage was severe, while another 31% said the pandemic has been significantly detrimental to their mental health.

Another 27% said the effect has been slightly detrimental.

Another 17% said their mental health had not been impacted, while 3% said their mental health had seen an improvement due to COVID-19.

AJP also asked readers whether they’d been able to access mental health support, and found that 41% found it difficult to find such support tailored to pharmacists.

Another 5% found this easy, while 22% said finding general mental health support was easy. Pharmacists also reached out to family and friends: 14% found it easy to talk to their network, but another 15% said getting support from friends and family was difficult.

Pharmacists also reached out to each other, with 9% finding it easy to get support from informal networks of other pharmacists, and 14% finding it difficult.

A significant majority of 29% said they had not reached out for mental health support.

Executive Officer of the Pharmacists’ Support Service Kay Dunkley told the AJP that the impact of COVID-19 on pharmacists had been multifactorial.

“There’s the aspect of the fear of infection, the aspect of all the changes that have had to occur in the way we live and work, and the aspect of isolation and restriction on our activities,” Ms Dunkley said.

“So it’s not really surprising that people would be feeling an adverse effect on their mental health. We’ve seen that in the broader community as much as in the profession, and pharmacists have been on the frontline and put under a lot of pressure.

“There’s been huge change in particularly the way community pharmacy practises, but also the hospital sector: being divided into teams, working with patients who are affected by COVID, and the stress caused by working in full PPE all day.

“And the people that have been coming into pharmacies have had increased anxiety, and that in itself makes them more difficult to look after, because they’re more likely to be agitated and aggressive, and respond in a negative way to the pharmacy staff because of their own fears.”

Ms Dunkley said that across the mental health sector, there has been increased demand for support, making access more difficult. Lockdowns have introduced barriers to talking with friends and family.

“Hopefully within pharmacy environments, because everyone’s under pressure, there has been support for each other. In pharmacy everyone’s facing the same stresses.”

She had heard anecdotes about pharmacies introducing more frequent staff meetings to discuss the challenges, or events such as staff morning teas.

“One pharmacist was saying he would put lollies into the robot so treats would fall out when people were dispensing.”

One positive is that as COVID is affecting everybody, pharmacists may feel less stigmatised about speaking out about its effect on them, Ms Dunkley suggested.

“It’s one of those things people can talk about with each other. It’s not something really sensitive they want to keep confidential. Perhaps that’s made it easier and people may not consider that to be reaching out for support, because it’s just talking about things in the workplace with friends or colleagues.”

Pharmacists can contact the Pharmacists Support Service on 1300 244 910 for peer support  related to the demands of being a pharmacist in Australia.

Lifeline is available on 13 11 14.

Members can call PDL on 1300 854 838 for support from a Professional Officer.

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