Mental health disorders are estimated to affect 1 in 5 Americans, and that number may be on the rise. As we adjust to life during a global pandemic, researchers and medical professionals are tasked with assessing the long-term effects of the life changing limitations we are experiencing.
What are the long-term effects on mental health with limited or no social gatherings? As we adjust to social distancing, travel limitations, and the economic changes of a global pandemic, how can pharmacists assist their patients with their mental health? Pharmacists are in a prime position to help recognize, assess, and provide prescribed treatment to patients who may be struggling with a broad range of mental health issues. Pharmacists are one of the most accessible healthcare professionals in our society.
So, what is mental health pharmacy, and how can psychiatric pharmacists help improve a patient’s mental health?
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What is a mental disorder?
The term mental disorder encompasses a variety of conditions that include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Mental disorder also refers to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders facing Americans. It is estimated that more than 17 million American adults have had at least one major depressive episode in their life, and 11 million have had a major depressive episode with severe impairment.
Given the prevalence of mental disorders, pharmacists are in a position to make an impact on a patient’s mental health every day in their practice, and they are well-equipped to help you.
Patient counseling from psychiatric pharmacists
We oftentimes limit our scope of the pharmacist’s role to the filling of prescriptions. Don’t be mistaken—this is a key part of the pharmacist’s role. But one of the most important roles of the pharmacist is counseling on prescriptions. Having an open conversation with you about your treatment plan, your understanding of your medications, and your symptoms allows the pharmacist to have the greatest impact on your health. This is where the role of the pharmacist really opens up!
Pharmacists receive orders for psychiatric medications every day. These may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, mood stabilizers, or stimulants. The pharmacist is responsible for ensuring the medication and dose is appropriate for the patient based on factors such as age, weight, and symptomatology. They check for interactions with other medications the patient may be taking.
The conversation at the counseling window is one of the key opportunities for a mental health pharmacist to have an impact on a patient’s mental health. This conversation is not just limited to the drug the patient is picking up that particular day, it is about the bigger picture. Did you know that drugs not related to mental health treatment can actually trigger mental health disorders? Common drugs such as statins, used to treat cholesterol, or proton pump inhibitors, used to treat acid reflux, can actually induce symptoms of depression.
If you fill your prescriptions at various pharmacies, each pharmacy may ask you about other drugs you are taking. This is to ensure they are providing you the best information about how your regimen may affect your overall health, and especially your mental health.
Medication adherence is another important factor in having a successful impact on mental health outcomes. Medication adherence is the extent to which you are taking your medication as prescribed. There are many reasons patients struggle to stick to their medication routine. Sometimes life is just busy and we forget! Other times, we may be concerned about something we have heard or seen on TV about the drug, and we’re hesitant to ask a professional, so we choose not to take it. Some drugs cause side effects that make it difficult to take as the doctor prescribed. They may make you tired, upset your stomach, or cause a headache. In some instances, the drugs chosen to treat your mental health disorder may actually make you feel like the symptoms of your disorder are worsening. Pharmacists are here to help in all these situations!
Pharmacists may suggest tools such as a calendar or electronic reminders to take your medications. We may call to check in with you at certain intervals to make sure things are going well. Some side effects may be decreased or avoided by changing administration times or taking with food, and pharmacists can recognize and suggest those needed changes. If a pharmacist recognizes that a change may be in order, they can help facilitate that conversation with your other healthcare providers.
The cost of medications is sometimes a significant barrier for patients being able to take their medications. Pharmacists and their teams work with insurance companies and manufacturer programs on a daily basis to find the most cost-effective way for patients to receive their drugs. Pharmacists can communicate with your prescriber about coverage limitations and help find solutions that are affordable. SingleCare is a great resource for pharmacists and patients to look for the best possible price on a particular drug.
Creating a medication treatment plan that a patient can stick to is one of the most important ways to ensure positive outcomes for mental health. A treatment plan must be reasonable and understood by the patient, affordable, and have as few side effects as possible. Your pharmacist can help with all aspects of making sure you can successfully adhere to your treatment.
How pharmacists can help recognize mental health issues
While there is a significant amount of the population impacted by mental health disorders, many may not seek treatment due to the stigma associated with them. Pharmacists, being one of the most accessible points of care, are in a unique position to recognize signs and symptoms of declining mental health. Patients are typically in pharmacies on a regular basis, sometimes multiple times per week. This frequency of interaction gives pharmacists the ability to recognize changes that may be occurring in a patient’s mood, cognitive function, or overall health. Checking in with patients allows us to assess these changes and make referrals as needed. Pharmacists are familiar with local health entities and providers can suggest a point of care to begin treatment for a suspected disorder.
At times, patients may be in a mental health crisis and not know where to go. Pharmacists are equipped with tools to help, even in a time of crisis. We have hotline information available to reach help at any hour. We can help facilitate family contact, transportation, and healthcare access. If you ever feel like you are having a mental health crisis, and don’t know who to contact, reach out to your pharmacist immediately.
We get a lot of reminders and suggestions about how to live healthier lives, and it is easy to get overwhelmed with who to listen to or what to do. Pharmacists are an easily accessible, highly trained point of care with a wealth of knowledge. If you suspect you, or someone you care for, may be experiencing issues with mental health, talk to your pharmacist.