In an ideal world, pharmacists would be able to identify patients in mental health crisis and provide appropriate solutions.
What if pharmacists could help prevent suicide? A pharmacy in Iowa may have done just that. Kate Gainer, PharmD, Executive Vice President and CEO of the Iowa Pharmacy Association (IPA) shared her story during a presentation focused on creative mental and behavioral health solutions at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Total Store Expo , held August 27-29 in Boston, Massachusetts, alongside Erin Shaal, PharmD.
“I [asked] a pharmacist to administer [Patient Health Questionnaire-9] at a pharmacy in central Iowa. The results revealed that the patient was suicidal…Before the patient left the pharmacy, the pharmacist was able to contact a case manager…and have him on the phone as the patient was discharged. And the pharmacist was able to follow up and ensure that this care link existed.
In an ideal world, all pharmacists would be able to spot similar situations and provide the appropriate care. In a country where 52.9 million people live with mental illnesses, more solutions to screen for mental health and help patients cope are desperately needed.
During their session, Shaal and Gainer presented a handful of creative solutions during their session that can help tackle the current mental health crisis while providing the most acute care to patients struggling with mental illness. .
Shaal, vice president, pharmacy supply, specialty and patient care at Albertsons Companies, pointed out that questionnaires are a quick and easy way to measure a patient’s health. Pharmacists can use questionnaires to help identify mental or behavioral health issues a patient is facing – and a simple questionnaire, administered when a patient is in the pharmacy for another service, can reduce stigma and create avenue for a conversation about mental health.
The aim of upstream intervention is to combat the problem at the source; in other words, working to understand why so many people are dealing with mental health issues in the first place.
At the University of Iowa, medical students created an “upstream clinic” focused on the social determinants of health (SDOH). Students working at the clinic would provide an SDOH questionnaire to patients to determine if there were any needs related to food, transportation, legal services, or unresolved family issues that might affect their health.
Using the results of the questionnaire, clinic staff were able to determine what kind of help patients needed, other than the medical help they were in the clinic for. Staff then filled these gaps by providing food, transportation, legal services and more.
Mental Health First Aid and Trauma-Informed Care
Just as CPR is needed if someone is having a heart attack, mental health first aid is needed when someone is going through a mental health crisis. Mental health first aid is training to identify, understand and respond to someone struggling with a mental health problem. Perhaps most importantly, like CPR, this training is not just for pharmacists and pharmacy staff; Widespread training in mental health first aid can help us all look after each other, Gainer pointed out.
Similarly, the goal of trauma-informed care is to approach patients or clients with the idea that they may be experiencing some form of trauma. Using the right language and having the right tools under their belt can help pharmacists communicate more effectively with patients dealing with trauma.
In the fight against the current mental health crisis, pharmacies and pharmacists are helping patients identify and deal with their mental and behavioral issues, it may take a bit of creative problem solving.
“I think pharmacists should play an advocacy and supportive role, and really be that front line,” Gainer said. “And the recognition that there are additional sources for them. There are additional resources, there is different health, there is different education, that you don’t necessarily have to do it alone.