Mental Health Awareness Month: Reducing the Stigma Starts in Pharmacies

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Lenora Newsome, PD, president of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, explores how pharmacists can support mental health through private conversations, and educating about prescriptions.

Lenora Newsome, PD, president of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy discusses the important role that pharmacists can play in supporting mental health. She talks about how pharmacies provide a private space for mental health conversations through their immunization rooms and advise pharmacists on communicating with other healthcare providers about patients' mental health prescriptions and potential side effects.

selling mental health medication to man at pharmacy | Image Credit: Syda Productions - stock.adobe.com

Image Credit: Syda Productions - stock.adobe.com

Q: What role do pharmacists playing in promoting mental health awareness during May (Mental Health Awareness Month) and throughout the year?

Lenora Newsome: Just being who we are. Being there being at our post, doing our everyday jobs, we're very observant. We notice what's going on with our patients, what's going on with their families, especially the communities that you're there, and you just pick up on subtle things that are going on in people's lives that could be something upsetting to them, and just kind of keep an eye on them, and make sure that they're doing okay, and don't be afraid to ask. That's the main thing is just to ask open your mouth and ask those questions. "How are you doing?" Because we can see all types of events. We see biths, we see deaths, we see people who are the caregivers, and sometimes the caregivers are overlooked. So just asking those questions inquiring to see what we could do to be of assistance.

Q: How can pharmacists effectively communicate with patients about the importance of mental well-being?

Lenora Newsome: Just speak about it is one thing. Also have brochures in your pharmacy, and most pharmacies now have monitors that have different little things that you can put across on a monitor. So if you have that come across on the monitor, people see that. People see movement. So they will just get little glimpses of things that we're available here to help you. So visually, verbally, and then just like when I say, you do counseling, that's another way you get that one on one contact.

Q: How can pharmacists help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness?

Lenora Newsome: Mental illness is something that's talked about all over the place now When I thought about it as my presidential initiative, I said, "well, will this be a good topic? Will this be something that other people will catch on to and latch onto?" and gosh, I was surprised, I was surprised to how much feedback I got back from people, and there are organizations and different businesses that are including wellness and well being in their business model. So that, to me, that's very special, to see that it was something that needs to be talked about. I hate to say the words, it's the big elephant in the room. It has been there. It's been there a long time, and it got worse with COVID. So just picking it up, speaking it out, and getting so much positive response from it.

Q: What strategies can be use to create a safe and supportive environment for patients to discuss mental health needs?

Lenora Newsome: One thing is privacy. A lot of times people don't want to talk about their mental health in the open, and the way the pharmacies are built right now, most pharmacists have an immunization room, that's a room where you can take someone aside and it serves a dual purpose. It served the purpose of being there for the immunizations, but also it gives you a quiet spot where you can go and have private conversations with your patients. They may not necessarily be your patients, it may be your employees. Sometimes you can see an employee getting overstressed, and you just say, "Well, hey, I think it's time for you to take a break or take a walk around the store, just to get out and reset your mind."

Q: How can pharmacists collaborate with other health care professionals to ensure patients receive the best mental health care?

Lenora Newsome: Oh, yeah, so we talked to other health care providers all the time. Sometimes it's the doctors, most times it's the nurses or other people that are in health care. So if you've noticed something, ask them have they noticed something or did you see something different when the patient was in their office for a visit. So there's multiple ways that we can communicate together to get the best outcome for our patients.

Q: Are there any specific ways pharmacists can help patients who are experiencing medication side effects related to mental health prescriptions?

Lenora Newsome: The first thing is, when someone gets put on a mental health prescription, be upfront and tell them the possible side effects that could happen. Now there's multiple side effects can happen, such as nausea. So with the nausea, I suggest just probably I have a dose for I'll say 3 to 7 days. So sometimes it takes a week, due to half a dose and the way you dose it, some mental health medicines will make you feel very alert. Some will make you feel groggy. So the ones that will make you feel alert, have them take them in the morning, the ones that make you feel groggy, take it in the evening. There's also the side effect that may be excess perspiration. I live in the south. So to us. that's a big deal. So if you get really hot, you may get drenched. So just be aware of it. Those are things that can happen. So I always tell my patients, "okay, you're starting this medication. These are the possible side effects that you're gonna have, and you need to stay on your medication for 6 to 9 months before you start trying to get out." That's very important. Some people think that once you start your medication, "oh, I'm feeling better, and stop it." And then they just get back into the same spot they were. So they have to give the medication time to do what it's designed to do.

Q: Since it is Mental Health Awareness Month, what are some ways that pharmacists can take care of their own mental health, especially considering burnout and stress?

Lenora Newsome: My main thing is just to get out. Get out, get away from what you do every day, find something different to do. I have several friends that have different things, what I call their recent buttons, what do you do to de-stress? So it may be things like making maple syrup, but most of these things involve actually getting out into nature, and once you get out into nature, your body will naturally begin to reset itself.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Lenora Newsome: Just the main thing, just get out. Get a break and do something different than pharmacy every day. So, another term that I have learned in my research on mental health is optic flow and explored that when you actually get out among nature, and it's actually your walking through the air, observing the leaves on the trees, stuff like your butterflies, your hummingbirds, and just be aware and it helps you to increase your awareness of what's going on around you, and that's another good way that you can reset yourself.

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