Getting the language right

Study finds Australian pharmacists are reasonably good with not stigmatising suicide, but more education is needed to aid in early interventions with at-risk patients 

A new study has found that Australian pharmacists frequently interact with people at risk of suicide, and generally avoid using stigmatising language, though one in 10 still used terms which may impact care.

The joint Canadian and Australian research team surveyed 235 Canadian and 161 Australian pharmacists and found that the endorsement of stigmatising terms about suicide was low.

It was found that more (11.8%) Australian pharmacists than Canadian pharmacists did, however, agree or strongly agree that people who died by suicide were irresponsible, cowardly or disconnected.

This amount was still substantially lower than a sample of Australian medical students, of whom 23.9% agreed that those who died by suicide are irresponsible, the authors said. 

Those who were without a personal diagnosis of mental illness were more likely to agree/strongly agree with the use of terms such as immoral, irresponsible, vengeful or cowardly when referring to suicide.

The authors, who included Claire O’Reilly of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney, said only 28% of the Australian pharmacists reported having training in mental health care crisis management, and targeted education programs for pharmacy staff should be considered to aid in assisting with early interventions for those experiencing thoughts or behaviour toward suicide.  

“Pharmacists interact with people at risk of suicide and differ in their agreement regarding stigmatising terms used to describe people who die by suicide,” the authors concluded.

“Personal and professional experience with mental illness and suicide may impact their use of stigmatising terms.”

“Opportunities for contact-based education and training on suicide, currently minimal in Canada and Australia, should be explored concurrent with research that examines the impact of these programmes on pharmacists’ behaviour in practice,” they said.

The research was published in the journal SAGE open medicine.

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