It’s been a long time coming, but the 6CPA’s mental health pharmacy trial is now getting off the ground – at a key time for Australians with mental illnesses
One of the last Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement’s Pharmacy Trial Programs, the Bridging the Gap between Physical and Mental Illness in Community Pharmacy (PharMIbridge) research project, is now looking for participating pharmacies from four regions.
The project proposes an intervention into how community pharmacies in Australia currently work with and support people with mental illnesses.
“We’re really excited at this point that it’s finally off the ground. It’s one of the last projects funded under the Pharmacy Trial Program as part of the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement – we had some delays because of COVID-19, but it’s quite timely,” said Dr Claire O’Reilly, from The University of Sydney’s School of Pharmacy, who with Professor Amanda Wheeler from the Menzies Health Institute Queensland is co-leading the project.
“There’s been a growing interest from community pharmacy across Australia in the mental health space for a number of years now.
“We’re trying to build the evidence base and try to hopefully support further implemented funded services by community pharmacy, once we have that solid evidence base to show what pharmacies are doing to support people with mental illness.”
Professor Wheeler said the grant would allow the consortia to build on earlier research by Griffith University under the Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement where community pharmacists worked with people living with depression and anxiety.
“The medication support service we piloted was found to improve people’s motivation and confidence to deal with their mental health problems and improved their medication adherence and quality of life,” Professor Wheeler said.
“This new funding will allow us to test the effectiveness of a pharmacist-led support service for people living with severe and persistent mental illness, particularly focusing on reducing medication-related problems and the management of physical illnesses which are common.
“This is important because of the significant life expectancy gap between Australians living with a mental illness and those without.”
Prof Wheeler said that the new project will help people experiencing mental illness, and their carers, utilise community pharmacy as a key part of their support networks.
“A key part of the study is making sure that people who are identified as part of someone’s support team are included. That might include a GP, psychiatrist, disability worker, case worker – whoever that individual identifies as part of their support team.”
For this reason, the researchers hope to recruit pharmacies which already have good working relationships with such workers.
Ultimately, the findings from this study could help the general public understand that community pharmacy is a valuable resource for people experiencing mental illness.
“A wider goal is that we incorporate what we call mental health friendly pharmacies around the country, though it’s only in four trial regions at the moment,” Prof Wheeler said.
Dr O’Reilly said that the stakeholders are trying to upskill as many pharmacy staff as possible.
“It’s not just about the pharmacies; it’s the pharmacy support staff, who are often the first contact,” she said.
“We’re trying to get pharmacy more involved with local mental health services and teams in their areas.
“We encourage pharmacies to have resources on display that highlight that it’s okay to talk to your pharmacist about mental health concerns. We’ve had research that shows that consumers feel pharmacists are someone they can talk to, and that’s a public health image we can promote while we’re developing the evidence base.
“The trust consumers have in pharmacy is key to our role in mental health.
“Some research of ours has highlighted that people often come into pharmacies in crisis, not knowing where else to go.
“Pharmacists commonly come into contact with people who are at risk of suicide, so we need to support pharmacists in that primary health role, and make sure they’re part of our response to mental illness in the community.”
She said that as it stands, providing this help can also take a toll on pharmacists, who may not feel well supported and connected in providing it.
Prof Wheeler said that thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the support provided by pharmacists and pharmacy staff is more vital than ever.
“Health Minister Hunt felt that this was an important project, and it’s even more important now,” she told the AJP.
“Community pharmacy has been one of the services, along with other health services, which has stayed available to the community, and in terms of knowing their customers, and the medicines they’re on, they’re able to support them even more.
“Pharmacy has really been trying to support people so that they aren’t necessarily having to come in to the pharmacy all the time; pharmacy has done so much work around obtaining prescriptions so patients don’t necessarily have all the work they used to have to do in terms of seeing prescribers.
“This is also about making sure that people aren’t isolated.
“The longer-term benefits of this trial will be so important in making sure that people have a support network and aren’t feeling isolated, in an ongoing way.”
Dr O’Reilly also appealed to pharmacists to make sure they are taking care of their own mental health during the pandemic and beyond.
“Pharmacists are really on the frontline at the moment. Other health professionals may be doing more telehealth, but pharmacists are really there taking a lot of the brunt of it, and they need to make sure they’re being looked after.”
The research partners will be guided through the trial by representatives with lived experience of mental illness, as well as experts from organisations such as Mental Health Australia, Mental Health Commission, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Primary Health Networks.
They are seeking pharmacies from the south-west and metropolitan/south Perth regions of Western Australia; the Hunter, New England region of NSW; and the Australian Capital Territory.
Pharmacists interested in participating can get in touch on email@example.com.
Any readers who are distressed can call 1300 244 910 for anonymous and confidential support from a pharmacist colleague over the phone through the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS), available 8am to 11pm EST 365 days of the year.
For urgent assistance when PSS is not available, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
For 24/7 confidential incident support for employee and owner pharmacists, members can call PDL on 1300 854 838 Australia wide.