The role of pharmacies in mental health care

Monday 21 January was designated 2019’s ‘Blue Monday’, the so-called most depressing day of the year. Blue Monday is more than just a hashtag – it’s the result of an actual formula thought up by a psychologist. According to the formula, Blue Monday always falls on the third Monday of the New Year. Blue Monday is the term given to the one day of the year when Brits are supposedly the most miserable. Thought up by psychologist and life coach Dr Cliff Arnall more than a decade ago, it takes into account variables such as weather conditions, debt, the end of Christmas, failed New Year’s resolutions and general low motivation levels.
 
However, whether we debunk the existence of Blue Monday or seek tips to battle through, we must be aware of potential problems underlying the media characterisation. Mental health can be an issue for anyone, on any day of the year, with 1 in 4 people in the UK affected annually. But what can we do to recognise the signs, and how can we help those in need?

First steps to recognising the issue

It’s important to understand that taking the first step to treatment, or even recognition of a problem, can be the hardest. Many think that their concerns will be dismissed and may feel ashamed and unworthy of clinical time.
 
Be aware that mental health issues can take multiple forms and exist on a spectrum within each category. Depression and anxiety are just two of the common conditions – there are many more. Symptoms and their presentation will vary in every patient.
 
With the range of routes available a lot to understand at the best of times, it’s worth directing patients to resources that guide them gently through the process. The first step can be as small as an individual realising that there is an issue, reading general information, or booking an appointment. For some, any level of interaction with services will be a huge milestone and we should be mindful of this.

Treatment options

Pathways to treating mental health issues are as varied as patients themselves and the range of problems they might be experiencing. Moving on from those first steps, patients can seek further information on how these treatment options might unfold.
 
A particular area of concern here is one we’ve discussed previously, clinical adherence. Due to the nature of mental health problems, remembering, wanting or even believing in the need to take medication can be a risk factor.

How pharmacies can help

The role of the pharmacist is vital in tackling mental health issues. We are often the people that patients have the most frequent contact with and in the everyday environment. Furthermore, frequent queries for us, such as obesity and smoking, are commonly comorbid with mental health problems.
 
Pharmacies should be the resource for setting up links to other healthcare professionals, advising on side effects, and being the first point of contact for those who start their journey with us. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has published a toolkit looking specifically at integrating mental health treatment into pharmacy practices.

List of helpful numbers

Mind
     Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
 
Samaritans
     Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
 
Anxiety UK
     Phone: 03444 775 774 (Mon to Fri, 9.30am to 5.30pm)