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Meeting the needs of patients affected by mental illness in community pharmacy

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Mental health has always been an area that has interested me as a healthcare professional and perhaps now, many others too, given the increasing number of reports of individuals who are affected by mental illness. Maybe it’s because little is truly understood about mental health conditions. So many questions still exist: What are the potential triggers? What is the commonality between the many unrelated demographics affected by mental health issues? Or maybe because mental illness even affects people who have realised their aspirations or attained what would be considered relative success in today’s society. Personally, the thought of being so vulnerable does scare me a little.  

While mental health awareness has increased in recent years, I still witness those who share their depression not being taken seriously, with a “just get over it” or “it will pass” response. We pharmacists are in a position to adequately address patient needs and are bound by the beneficence pillar of ethics to do right by our patients. 

Recently, I have added an extra element to my patient counselling and medicines use reviews where I ask questions about mental wellbeing especially if they are on anti-depressants. We would discuss how they thought their treatment was going and if there was anything they would like to include in their ongoing treatments, such as talking therapies or support groups which I could potentially signpost them to. I think it’s one of the simplest ways to do that extra bit to support patients and safeguard those who may be deeply affected by mental health illness.  

The result of one of these conversations was me identifying and referring a patient who had gone through multiple episodes of depression without seeking help because he was deeply ashamed by it. I never quite understood how much patients are affected by the stigma that some still attach to mental illness until my patient described it as a powerful hold which breaks his spirit every time he seeks help. This was when it dawned on me that it should be us as healthcare professionals reaching out rather than waiting for our patients to approach us. One of my colleagues who has started adopting a similar approach shared experiences of a patient opening up to him after he took the time to ask about scars on the patient’s arm which turned out to be a result of self-harm.

As the World Health Organization has pointed out, depression affects more than 300 million people worldwide and it could lead to a range of other mental health or physical health issues if not managed appropriately. 

What our patients need is someone to take the time to ask them the right questions, and it is our responsibility as frontline healthcare professionals to do so.

About the author:

Sean Quay is an alumni of the University of Nottingham where he contributed regularly to the Nottingham School of Pharmacy blog. Currently, he is a practising pharmacist for Boots where he splits his time between the outpatient pharmacy at the Bristol Royal infirmary and other community pharmacies.

  •  This blog was updated on 23 November 2018 to adjust language used to describe poor mental health.


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