How pharmacists cope with stress

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Pharmacists are a self-reliant bunch – but this means many don’t have solid coping strategies when they’re faced with stress

The National Stress and Wellbeing Survey of Pharmacists, Intern Pharmacists and Pharmacy Students looked at the levels of stress faced by pharmacists – and it also examined the way pharmacists cope.

Pharmacists, like doctors and nurses, face an elevated level of stress compared to the general public.

But they don’t generally have coping strategies in place, the survey found.

“The apparent lack of coping strategies goes some way to confirming three other findings from the survey of the pharmacy workforce in Australia,” the survey found.

“Firstly, an earlier finding was that respondents have a high degree of self-reliance… may indicate that they do not rely to any extent on the use of coping strategies.

“Secondly, a significant number of respondents have indicated that they do not know where to go or what to do when faced with having to deal with stressful situations.

“Thirdly, respondents have indicated that they are poorly prepared for dealing with stressful situations in the workplace.”

However when pharmacists do have their own strategies to cope with the pressures they’re under, they tend to be healthy strategies, involving family, friends, colleagues and exercise.

Despite having high stress levels and ready access to substances which can be misused or abused, pharmacists don’t misuse drugs – licit or illicit – or alcohol any more than the general population, the survey found.

“There was a low prevalence of use of alcohol, self-medication and recreational drugs by respondents… but there was also some effectiveness associated with these approaches.”

Slightly more respondents aged under 30 said they had been using recreational drugs a little, compared to the over-30 age group, but overall only 1% of respondents said they had used recreational drugs a little (and zero per cent a medium amount or a lot).

Only 1% said they had self-medicated a lot, 3% a medium amount and 10% a little; 3% of pharmacists said they used alcohol a lot, 7% a medium amount and 24% a little.

The report speculates that when extrapolated to the full number of pharmacists practising in Australia, the results indicate that as many as 600 could be using illicit drugs, though it says this is an “imprecise” speculation.

The most common way to deal with stress was turning to colleagues, family and friends.

This was followed by exercise, the use of mindfulness, meditation and/or prayer.

“Based on the survey, drugs and alcohol don’t seem to play a significant role, or be a significant coping strategy for pharmacists, which is good news,” says Kay Dunkley, executive officer of the Pharmacists’ Support Service.

But the fact that pharmacists may not know where to turn for more formal help is of concern, she says.

“Everyone needs to have supports in place for those times when life does get a bit tough, and so it’s good for people to think about this before they need it.

“That’s what PSS is for – to help people tap into services that might be useful.

“But also it’s important that pharmacists have a circle of friends and colleagues they can turn to for support – whether directly through colleagues at work, or people you’ve known from days when you were at uni.

“Pharmacists need to support pharmacists.”

Readers who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910.

PDL members can contact PDL on 1300 854 838.

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