Mental Health & Your Community Pharmacist

Your community pharmacist plays a role more than ‘dispensary’ when it comes to mental health.

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A community pharmacist plays a greater role than just the person behind the counter who sells the medications you need. They are the first line of health professionals other than general practitioners and the best thing is that their advice is almost always dispensed for free. 

We speak to James Low, pharmacist at Pillbox Pharmacy who shines the light on how your friendly neighbourhood community pharmacist can help with your mental health journey. 

1Twenty80: What is the number one misconception when it comes to mental health and the role of a pharmacist? 

James Low: A lot of people think that we are just a medicine dispenser. We dispense whatever that’s prescribed by the doctor. Indirectly, people think that pharmacists have limited knowledge on mental health and its treatments. In fact, pharmacists are very knowledgeable on mental health issues and the medications that can help someone with a mental health issue such as antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety.

1Twenty80: Can people approach a pharmacist with questions about mental health? 

James: Absolutely! Pharmacists, especially community pharmacists are very approachable. We are more than happy to speak to you about your problems. We know what sort of lifestyle modification would benefit the patients and also when to refer patients to doctors for further examination. With this process, the patient gets the best and quickest help possible.

1Twenty80: What questions should a person ask a pharmacist when it comes to mental health?

James: Anything that’s bothering the affected person really. From queries with regard to their medications to something simple such as feeling low, pharmacists are always more than willing to have a chat and no question is too big for us!

Quotes: We know what sort of lifestyle modification would benefit the patients and also when to refer patients to doctors for further examination.

1Twenty80: What type of information can you provide to the community about mental health?

James: Mental health issues are more common than you think and unfortunately they are not being talked about often enough. It comes in many forms, not necessarily just depression. The most common signs are constant feeling of fear, low mood and uncontrolled mood swings. When you are not feeling ‘yourself’, I encourage you to start speaking to someone you can trust, such as family and friends and then your healthcare provider such as pharmacists. And if you are on medications for mental illness, always remember to speak to your pharmacist if you wish to change your lifestyle drastically. For example, your decision to have a new supplement for general wellbeing can also impact the effectiveness of your current medications. So my advice is always speak to your pharmacist if you want to do any drastic lifestyle modification. Also, if you are taking a lot of medications for other conditions, quarterly medication use review with the pharmacist is always helpful.

Quote: The most common signs are constant feeling of fear, low mood and uncontrolled mood swings.

1Twenty80: How can a community pharmacist improve medication adherence in mental health patients?

James: A medication use review is always helpful, whereby patients bring their medications to the pharmacist and both sift through the medications one by one to see what their concerns are. A lot of times, poor adherence comes from the fear of side effects. Like any other medicine, doctors always prescribe that specific medicine if the benefit outweighs the risk of side effects. Thus, managing side effects is important. Though bear in mind, not everyone will experience the side effects of the medication so if you are not confident about the prescribed medication, it’s best to speak to your pharmacist rather than just stopping any of your medication.

1Twenty80: What kind of counselling can a pharmacist provide for a mental health patient?

James: Pharmacists can help with any concerns you may have. We can counsel you on the use of your medication as well as any lifestyle advice to supplement your main therapy. In fact, pharmacists should be your first point of contact with regards to health queries so that we can refer you appropriately and quickly to the doctor if you require specialist care.

1Twenty80: Would you suggest for carers to come in with the mental health patient in order to increase drug adherence?

James: Yes, but only if the patient gives consent. Support from carers, family members and friends are always beneficial to the on-going drug therapy when it comes to mental illness.

1Twenty80: What is your advice to our readers on mental health and community pharmacists?

James: Mental illnesses are a lot more common than you think. It affects almost everyone to a certain degree and it should be talked about a lot more. Keeping the problem to yourself is not going to help. Talking about it with close friends and family is always a good place to start. Pharmacists are also very knowledgeable with regards to various illnesses as well as medication. So, if you have any concerns, we can always help and flag your case to other healthcare professionals if needed. 

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