Pharmacists Can Help Meet the Need for Increased Behavioral Health Medication Management

Reports of depression, anxiety and stress have surged since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Reports of depression, anxiety and stress have surged since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. In a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll in February 2021, 4 out of 10 Americans reported that they were experiencing symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive order, compared with 1 out of 10 in January 2019.1

The spike in adverse mental health symptoms has led to increased use of behavioral health medications. This, in turn, has resulted in more patient questions and concerns and an expanded need for monitoring to ensure that these medications do not interact poorly with other medications.

Population Impact Varies

Over the last year and a half, certain segments of the population have suffered more adverse mental health consequences than others. Social distancing and remote schooling significantly impacted the lives of young adults, who reported higher levels of mental health symptoms than other age groups. According to KFF data, 25% of young adults said they had started or increased substance use during the pandemic, compared with 13% of all adults. The absence of in-person school, sports, and other recreational activities also significantly changed the lives of youth and their parents, making it difficult for them to cope.

Racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers also reported disproportionately worse mental health symptoms, increased substance use, and elevated suicide ideation, according to the KFF report.1

Although rates of COVID-19 infections are generally improving, history has shown that the mental health toll from pandemics and other disasters can last well beyond the physical impact. For instance, studies show that previous outbreaks have caused increased mental health concerns for health care workers up to 3 years after the outbreak itself.

The Role of the Pharmacist

Pharmacists play an important role in helping patients navigate behavioral health medications. Throughout the pandemic, pharmacists have been the most accessible health care professionals. They have been readily available to patients to answer day-to-day questions and provide accurate guidance.

Patients are frequently concerned about how over-the-counter medications will interact with their drug regimen. Pharmacists can answer questions as well as advise patients on when they need to seek medical advice or further follow-up from their primary care physician. They can also guide patients on what to expect with a medication, such as whether something is a common adverse effect or a more serious adverse effect that should not be ignored.

Given accessibility, time, and resources, pharmacists have the clinical knowledge to perform medication therapy management (MTM) services and pharmacy reviews to provide patients with optimal health care and cost-saving solutions. They can assess the risks of polypharmacy, which refers to the regular use of 5 or more medications or visiting multiple doctors.

The pharmacist is also the link between the patient’s voice and the prescriber and insurance company. Pharmacists often find themselves advocating for a patient when the initially prescribed medication is either not covered by insurance or if it is producing intolerable side effects. Consequently, pharmacists can also be the ones to further explain in detail to a patient why an alternative drug may be the best option.

Pharmacists are required to continue their education and keep up to date with the new medications on the market. Pharmacists can also pursue further education and residency in psychiatry, leading to greater collaboration with the prescriber and nurses with the goal of achieving the best health outcomes for the patient.

Ferkhanda Najib, PharmD, is a Client Relations Pharmacist, Vaccine Coordinator and Consulting Pharmacist for Community Care Rx, a full-service, long-term-care pharmacy with offices in Hempstead, N.Y. and Totowa, N.J.

REFERENCE

Panchal N, Kamal R, Cox C, and Garfield R. The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. Kaiser Family Foundation; February 10, 2021. Accessed November 18, 2021. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/