Community pharmacists and universities improving frontline support

  • Rural pharmacy older styled building on street corner
  • Rural pharmacy  older styled building
Pharmacy Guild of Australia
Peter Waterman, Communication Specialist, Engagement
& Advocacy

It is vital to build capability and knowledge across workforces and within communities to ensure a shared understanding about suicide distress. 

The more that all health professionals can do to help patients living with mental health issues, the better. Community pharmacies are at the frontline of helping patients, but we can do more to formalise a role for pharmacists in identifying patients at risk and connecting them with services and referral pathways.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia (the Guild) is engaged in two vitally important areas of work:

  • PharMIbridge: A randomised controlled trial (RCT), a collaboration with Griffith University, the University of Sydney and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia – funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.
  • The NSW Mental Health Community Pharmacy Program: A collaboration between the Pharmacy Guild of Australia NSW Branch, Charles Sturt University, the University of Sydney, and leading mental health organisations including the Black Dog Institute, Phoenix Australia Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health and ConNetica. This program is funded by the NSW Government.

The Guild understands the importance of addressing mental health and is engaged in a project to support people living with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI). The PharMIbridge RCT is designed to test the effectiveness of an individualised, pharmacist-led support service and intervention that aims to identify and address problems relating to psychotropic medication use or physical and psychological health concerns.

Community pharmacists can be one of the first health professionals a mental health consumer will turn to for help.

This trial is an important initiative in determining the impact of a pharmacist’s intervention in helping people living with mental illness. The intervention involves an in-depth medicine support service delivered over six months that is goal-oriented, flexible and individualised.

The trial is assessing the impacts of a pharmacist’s intervention and changes in consumer medication adherence and health outcomes, including quality of life, physical health, and mental wellbeing. It is also assessing the confidence and knowledge of community pharmacists to support consumers through the trial service.

As part of the NSW Mental Health Community Pharmacy Program, the Guild NSW Branch is delivering a series of educational modules and workshops on key topics including trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide prevention and mental health first aid. Training is available to all NSW-based pharmacy staff including pharmacists, pharmacy assistants, managers and other support staff.  

All courses have been designed by subject matter experts to tailor the learning specifically for a pharmacy audience, to identify and better assist patients with mental health concerns and issues.

The suicide prevention training offers a range of unique educational training opportunities with topics including essential communication skills (verbal and non-verbal language); culturally respectful strategies to support Indigenous Australians; addressing stigma and fear; support for regional, rural and remote communities; and relevant and available support services and resources.

The program focuses on upskilling all pharmacy staff, particularly those in regional and rural NSW, and is funded by the NSW Government through its drought relief extension package.

Community pharmacists have an important role to play in supporting people who have a mental illness and are often in the frontline as a care provider, providing advice and assistance to people who may be suffering through difficult times.

Tackling the tricky topics is all part and parcel of the work of Australia’s community pharmacists. Gatekeepers to medications, and a familiar face for those navigating the mental health system, pharmacists play a unique – albeit often overlooked – role in mental health.

With around one in five people aged 16 to 85 years likely to experience a mental health disorder, a lack of access to services in rural and remote areas, combined with poorer health outcomes experienced by people in these regions, means it is important to include community pharmacies as part of a multidisciplinary mental health team supporting people living with mental health challenges.

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