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Mental health first aid training is beneficial for community pharmacy staff and residents in rural and regional areas, study finds

Researchers have evaluated the impact of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training on pharmacy staff and community members living in rural Australia.

The initiative, called “Community Farmacy – The Helping Hand Initiative”, provided MHFA training sessions and mental health resources to community pharmacy staff alongside members of the farming community living in rural and remote regions of Queensland.

This was funded through a grant from the Queensland Mental Health Commission, with the aim to foster community connections and social inclusion, while contributing to a reduction of stigma related to mental illness.

People living in rural and remote communities are a known vulnerable group at higher risk of experiencing poor mental health and wellbeing, say researchers Sara Shams from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Qld branch and Dr Laetitia Hattingh from Griffith University.

“Remote community members can be faced with several hardships including social and geographic isolation, economic uncertainty and a lack of support services,” they said in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research.

“Australian farming communities have even poorer mental health outcomes than wider rural averages, evidenced by increased suicide rates in farming communities. Underlying causes are stigma, climatic variability, anxiety caused by economic uncertainty, social isolation, poor access to health services and ‘need to save face’ attitudes and beliefs of farming communities.”

Four MHFA training sessions across four Queensland towns were conducted throughout February–March 2018.

Three of the four sessions involved pharmacy staff members from multiple pharmacies in the town and all sessions incorporated community members.

Meanwhile, 32 pharmacy staff and 14 community members participated in questionnaires before and after the initiative and MHFA training.

Results showed participants’ understanding of the need to ask a person directly about suicide changed significantly through the training.

The surveys also demonstrated a change in knowledge of both the consumers and pharmacy staff members.

Pharmacy staff members noted improved practices:

“I provide more comprehensive counselling … more aware of recognising the symptoms of a mental health issue, for example poor sleep, and rather than just treating the symptom, I am engaging the patient in a conversation about their mental health. Asking the hard questions has now become a regular component of my counselling. The end result is that I am gaining further trust from my patients and I am helping them holistically with their healthcare needs.” (P4)

Community members’ perception about how pharmacy staff can assist with mental health issues also changed significantly and pharmacy staff reported an increase in confidence to approach consumers regarding their mental health.

Qualitative feedback from consumers and pharmacy staff 8–12 weeks following the training was positive.

Both staff and community members commented on the positive impact of the combined sessions in obtaining different perspectives:

“The combination of pharmacists and community members was very beneficial as it brought different perspectives to the issues surrounding patient[s] with mental health disorders.” (P2)

“I did enjoy looking at it from a pharmacy point of view and sharing thoughts with the pharmacists there.” (C4)

“Pharmacy staff members are well placed to provide mental health support to farming communities,” authors Ms Shams and Dr Hattingh concluded.

“A collaborative mental health training approach in rural and remote areas that involved pharmacy staff and local community members showed improved knowledge, skills and collaboration between staff and consumers. This approach could easily be adapted to other contexts.”

They said future studies evaluating the impact of collaborative mental health training should incorporate a longer follow‐up period to determine whether positive impacts could be sustained.

See the full study in the Journal of Pharmacy Practice and Research

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