by Sarah Steel MRPharmS, RPS Wales Policy and Practice Co-ordinator
Over recent years, mental health has become something of a global conversation, a buzzword, a hashtag. Remove the stigma. Break the silence. Be open, talk, share.
Awareness is fantastic, conversation is progressive but how we act is what matters. An episode of mental illness is frightening, frustrating and isolating. As a pharmacist and a patient I have seen mental ill health from both sides and both are scary. People involved on both sides are often scared about the same things. What is ok to say? How do I act? How do I not make this worse? Awkwardness can be destructive.
Admitted to hospital, as a patient in crisis it was exhausting being asked again and again by different people what medication I was taking. No, I didn’t bring with me the third lot of meds that my doctor has prescribed that right now aren’t helping me feel better. I desperately wanted to get better, but I especially wanted and needed to be treated as a person, recognised as a person at a time when I felt so much less than that.
Turning awareness into action
As pharmacists, I feel we need to treat every patient as an individual, make every reasonable effort to understand their personal situation and take a moment to think about what we need from the patient and what the patient may need from us. I’m a firm believer that we can help, we can make a difference. My advice to other pharmacists would be to continue the conversation into practice, pursue mental health education, training, even mental health first aid. Take some time to develop your awareness in your capacity, and you can adapt your learning to your role and put it into action to help patients.
A simple start that I’ve found useful, is to consider that maybe some patients don’t need to be the primary source for a drug history. Maybe an initial interaction with a patient isn’t the optimal time to decipher between an adverse effect and a true allergy. Perhaps using your first consultation with your patient to make them feel a little safer and slightly less alone can be the first step in putting your awareness into practice.
If you’ve got an idea on how pharmacists can take actions to make things easier for patients affected by mental ill health, feel free to get in touch with me at Sarah.Steel@rpharms.com – I’d really like to hear from you.