Alongside the National Council for Behavioral Health, Walgreens has completed the first phase of mental health first aid training for the company’s health outcomes pharmacists and plans to soon make the specialized training available industry-wide.

Mental health first aid trains participants to recognize risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, as well as how to help patients in both crisis and non-crisis situations. The initiative by Walgreens was announced in May 2019 as part of Mental Health Month in the United States and included 65 employees in the company’s human resources department.

The first group of pharmacists to complete the training are focused on improving patient outcomes and adherence. A press release from Walgreens noted that these issues have become particularly important amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, which has led to a myriad of mental health concerns around the world.

“With the prevalence and rise of incidents of depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, and others, specialized training can be key to identifying warning signs and working with other providers, even finding gaps in care or treatment,” said Rina Shah, PharmD, Walgreens group vice president of specialty and retail pharmacy operations, in a statement.

According to the news release, mental health centers and providers in the United States have reported increased patient demand. Specifically, the release said between January and April 2020, Mental Health America has seen a 64% increase in the number of daily screenings completed for depression and a 70% increase in daily screenings completed for anxiety.

“Mental health first aid training is more essential than ever, as our country risks a wave of mental illness in the wake of the tragic COVID-19 pandemic,” said Chuck Ingoglia, MSW, CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, in the statement.

Walgreens Completes First Phase of Mental Health First Aid Training for Pharmacists Focused on Health Outcomes [news release]. Walgreens; May 20, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020.