The growing recognition of mental health conditions in regional, rural and remote communities has heightened the focus on the role community pharmacies play in helping patients manage these issues.
Research shows mental health issues will affect one in every five Australians and are the third leading cause of disability burden in Australia, accounting for an estimated 27 per cent of the total years lost due to disability.
Mental health is a growing concern and data shows, in 2019–20, there were 40.7 million prescriptions for mental health-related medications in Australia. This was an increase from the 22 million prescriptions in 2010–11.
While community pharmacies help manage patients experiencing mental illness across the broad spectrum, depression is the most common presentation, affecting about one in five women and one in eight men at some stage during their lives.
Depression is a lot more than just being in a low mood and, according to Beyond Blue, a person may be depressed if, for more than two weeks, they have felt sad, down or miserable most of the time or have lost their interest or pleasure in some of their usual everyday activities – to name just a few symptoms.
Depression is a serious illness and one that affects a person’s physical and mental health. But, importantly, in the vast majority of cases it can be treated and the first step is seeking help from a health professional.
The need to recognise and help patients suffering from depression is because it is a leading cause of suicide which, in Australia, claims some nine lives every day. And according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, males are three to four times more likely to take their own lives than females. Males aged 40–49 and over the age of 85 have the highest rates. These are alarming figures and community pharmacy is determined to help lower them.
The National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Professor Trent Twomey, said pharmacists were among the health professionals who are able to help people experiencing depression.
‘Many community pharmacies now provide services that can help people who are experiencing depression,’ Professor Twomey said.
‘Many community pharmacists have undertaken a special course in mental health first aid and, as the most accessible health professionals, they are a great place to begin when seeking advice or counselling for depression.
‘Many people in regional, rural and remote areas find it difficult to get an appointment to see their GP, if there is one in their area. But their pharmacy is accessible, and often open longer hours and at weekends.’
Professor Twomey said help for men experiencing mental health issues was particularly important.
‘We know that men in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia suffer mental health issues and often find it difficult to get help or ask for help,’ he said.
‘The key to starting to get help is to be able to have a conversation with a trusted person and this is where community pharmacists are critical.
‘Pharmacists are among the most trusted of all health professionals. So men feeling anxiety, depression, loneliness and other mental health issues can feel confident in speaking to them for advice and help.
‘In the past, there has been a stigma associated with mental health issues, but those days – thankfully – are behind us and no-one entering a pharmacy to discuss depression or other mental health issues should experience stigma.’