Pharmacy’s role in mental health

How to contribute in your workplace

In light of National Mental Health Week, health practitioners have been reminded of their important role in aiding people who may be experiencing mental health issues.

Latest data indicates that one in five people aged between 16 to 85 experience one of the common forms of mental illness (anxiety, affective or mood disorders, and substance use disorders) in any one year.

Australia is doing well in terms of caring for people with mental health issues, ranking highly on the inaugural Asia-Pacific Mental Health Integration Index, a measurement of how countries are performing in relation to helping people affected by mental illness.

SANE Australia’s CEO Jack Heath says the country’s strong performance across all categories is due to increased investments in mental health services over a number of years.

However while the Index reflects improvements in the past decade, too many people still do not receive the help they need.

Stigma is still pervasive in society, the Index found, and treatment of people with mental illness is low – in Australia less than half of those with a mental illness receive medical care.

“There is still significant work to be done to address the deficiencies of care and stigma, with the risk of suicide for people living with complex mental illness 10-40 times higher than the general population,” says Heath.

Mental health first aid courses that teach skills in recognising and supporting people with mental health issues should be a registration requirement for pharmacists, argues the National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association (NAPSA).

“As community pharmacists are often the first point of contact for consumers regarding their health, individuals living with a mental health condition are likely to seek their assistance,” says the student organisation.

“Mental health first aid education should be a requirement of the Pharmacy Board of Australia, for registration of a pharmacist, much like physical first aid is. The importance of mental health first aid is substantial and only growing exponentially.”

“The main benefit of mental health education is in raising awareness and removing that stigma,” explains NAPSA president Shefali Parekh.

“It can also give pharmacists the confidence to tackle mental health issues that may present in the pharmacy. I’ve done mental health first aid training myself, and know that it’s effective at starting that conversation,” she says.

Mental health first aid courses can provide pharmacists with:

  • Skills in how to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health problems;
  • Knowledge of the possible causes or risk factors for these mental health problems;
  • Awareness of the evidenced based medical, psychological and alternative treatments available;
  • Skills in how to give appropriate initial help and support someone experiencing a mental health problem;
  • Skills in how to take appropriate action if a crisis situation arises involving suicidal behaviour, panic attack, stress reaction to trauma, overdose or threatening psychotic behaviour.

Source: Mental Health First Aid Australia

In addition to thinking of patients, the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) encourages pharmacists to take some time to review their own mental health and wellbeing this week.

“As pharmacists we are not always good at taking our own advice and we often omit to attend to our own health and wellbeing,” says PSS President, John Coppock.

“In the current pharmacy environment we must all take steps to maintain our mental health by managing stress through a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise; a healthy diet; adequate sleep and ensuring sufficient time for relaxation and pleasurable activities with our friends and loved ones.”

He reminds pharmacists that the PSS is just a phone call away and can help if you are stressed, concerned about your mental health or need a listening ear.

Anonymous and discreet support is available by phoning 1300 244 910 between 8.00 am and 11.00 pm (EST) every day of the year

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