How pharmacists can identify and support people with depression

Jonathan Burton

Today is World Health Day, which marks the anniversary of the founding of the World Health Organization. The theme of this year’s day is depression. We want to use this as an opportunity to highlight the important role that pharmacists can play in identifying and supporting people with depression. Today’s article has been written by community pharmacist Jonathan Burton and gives an insight into the ways a pharmacist can help tackle the stigma of depression.

By Jonathan Burton

I work in a community pharmacy which serves a large university student population. Depressive illness is one of the most common conditions I see in my day to day practice and there is much I can do as a pharmacist to help this young adult patient group.

As a health professional you need to commit yourself to having conversations with patients about their mental health, and ensure they know you’re available to them for advice and support in a friendly and confidential environment. I see a great many prescriptions for antidepressant medication and I always enquire with patients to check if it’s a new medicine. This is a key opportunity to invite patients into my consulting room, introduce myself and ask their permission for a ‘chat’ about their medicines.

As well as explaining to patients the main advice points regarding their medicines, including side effects and how long they may take to work, it’s vital that I ask them if they have any questions and do my best to answer them. I’ll also ask about their sleep habits and advise on good sleep hygiene if needed. Often we’ll discuss how things are with studies, friends, interests etc. Above all, I try to listen to what’s important to the patient and invite them to keep in touch with me and let me know how they are getting on. Sometimes I’ll arrange a telephone follow up for a few days after a new medicine is started and when patients collect subsequent prescriptions or even present other pharmacy services such as stop smoking or minor ailments walk-in clinic… These are all great opportunities to catch up.

Another key area where pharmacists can help patients with depression is spotting the signs and symptoms. I often have students come to me for advice as they are ‘tired all the time’ and perhaps sleeping too much, or not enough. This could be related to too much work (and play!), or a deficiency such as anaemia. However, often there is a mental health angle and a quick chat in the consulting room often reveals additional worries and problems which are suggestive of depressive illness and sometimes anxiety. I spend a lot of time ensuring patients understand it’s OK to go to their GP and access other support services to talk through their symptoms and feelings. People are often scared of being put on antidepressant medication and it’s true that it’s not always appropriate, but I also try to bust the myths around the misconceptions associated with such treatment.

I think that pharmacists have much to offer to patients with depression – not only our knowledge of medicines but a listening ear, confidential setting and a caring and empathetic attitude.


We would also like to remind you of our Medicines Optimisation briefing on depression, done in conjunction with the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education (CPPE). You can also watch our webinar titled Depression and implications for pharmacy practice.

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