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Pharmacy needs to put its mental wellbeing first

The pandemic had a lasting impact on the nation's mental health, and that includes community pharmacy teams on the healthcare front line. Emma Boyle, brand manager for Care at Thornton & Ross, looks at the opportunities to support their mental health and wellbeing.

Even with the end of restrictions on daily life being in sight, the pandemic has had a lasting impact on the nation's mental health, and that includes community pharmacy teams on the healthcare front line. Emma Boyle, brand manager for Care at Thornton & Ross, looks at the opportunities to support their mental health and wellbeing

There have been many revelations to come out of the pandemic but one that is a constant is the need to look out for and protect our mental wellbeing. The last 12 months has required us to completely change the way we navigate our lives, our work, and our communication with each other, and this has had a major impact on people's health. 

Pharmacy has been and continues to be one of the shining lights through all this and has shown true agility to continue doing what it does best: looking after the health and wellbeing of the communities it serves, including their mental health. But there’s no denying that the extra strain placed on pharmacies as frontline support for the NHS has also taken its toll on colleagues at every level.

A need for support

While the immediate impact on mental health can be rallied around, it's important the industry – governing bodies, operators and individual pharmacies and their patients – takes stock and builds a foundation for the future. We don’t know what’s around the corner, but what we do know is that the health of pharmacy staff is paramount given their role in society.

The increased workload and stress placed on pharmacies during the COVID-19 outbreak saw the NHS offer a mental health hotline for pharmacy teams working across all areas of the NHS. Staffed by thousands of trained volunteers from charities including Hospice UK, the Samaritans and Shout, the hotline has been a welcome deployment for those in need of support. But the hotline is only impactful if someone proactively picks up the phone and with long work hours, family or home commitments, the chances of putting a call get reduced, even it would be an extremely positive move for an individual.

Therefore, it begs the question: could the industry be better supported with dedicated outreach and mental health ambassadors that take the conversation to pharmacies? Is there an opportunity for operators and the NHS to collaborate on a way of putting the dispensing baskets down, even for half an hour, in order to talk about and support the mental health of pharmacy staff?

Explore the possibilities

That’s a long-term debate, but in the interim pharmacies should be exploring the things they can do, what they can personally control and the processes they can adopt that will have a beneficial impact on the whole team. Policy setting, mental health awareness training and communication training are great places to start.

Having clear policies in places towards your physical and mental health will help protect you in the long term. Make sure these expectations are mutually agreed by the team, measurable and regularly reviewed. As you probably notice with your patients, body and mind do not work in isolation. An unhealthy mind can lead to an unhealthy body and vice versa. For this reason, a good work/life balance for all colleagues needs a holistic approach and policies to ensure everyone has the chance to achieve them.

Evidence suggests there are seven steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing and get the most out of life:

  1. Connect meaningfully with others – take time to eat together; talk to friends and family
  2. Get regular exercise – combat stress and anxiety; raise self-esteem; enable chemical changes that affect mood
  3. Learn new skills – it doesn’t have to be work-related, but this can boost self-confidence
  4. Give back – acts of kindness can boost mental health
  5. Practice mindfulness – pay more attention to the present to change your perspective on challenges
  6. Sleep well – take time to recharge
  7. Speak to yourself kindly – our thoughts influence behaviour and feelings.

Pharmacy teams can work together to discuss what their personal and business boundaries are against the seven steps, ensure every colleague has the chance to achieve them and consequently get on the front foot in supporting each other’s mental wellbeing.

Communication is key

The working environment in pharmacy can be tough. You are at the coalface of public health, often confronted with distressed unwell people. And there’s one tool more than any that help reduce stress for both parties, build rapport, improve outcomes and ultimately support your mental wellbeing: communication, or your bedside manner. This is something pharmacies should invest in as part of any mental health support.

Dealing with patients is an art and getting it right takes, time, compassion and patience. The ability to send clear and accurate messages is one of the most important skills a pharmacy colleague can have. What you said may come across different from what you meant by what you said, which equally may be different from what your customer heard, and therefore what your customer thought you meant.

In a multi-cultural society, this also means understanding the nuances in socio-ethnic differences. Having a human touch and treating each patient differently will help them feel valued, provide them with accurate advice, and equally give you more fulfilment from the interaction, which all supports positive mental wellbeing. 

The future of pharmacy relies on an industry that is feeling its best because the health of our communities is a direct comparison of the primary care support they receive. Our pharmacies need to put themselves first in order to achieve this so while discussions about long-term support continue, its important pharmacies be proactive in their approach to creating time for mental wellbeing discussions internally. Take advantage of the tools and assets available from external partners to establish new support structures for your teams, giving them every chance to feel the best they can and keep being a shining light in primary care.

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