Pharmacist with clipboard

Mental Health First Aid preparing pharmacists to manage mental healthcare in the community

  • Education

One in four people are reported as experiencing a mental health problem every year and the improvement of mental health has been identified by the World Health Organisation as a priority worldwide.

As the most commonly visited healthcare professionals, community pharmacists are at the forefront of mental healthcare. In the course of their work, pharmacists in the community frequently encounter people with mental health problems and benefit from skills-based training as to how to manage mental healthcare in the community.

Founded in Australia, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an internationally recognised, evidence-based, training course. It was introduced into Ireland by Prof Dolores Keating, Chief Pharmacist of St John of God Hospital and Honorary Associate Professor in RCSI. Through the collaboration between St John of God Hospital and the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, MHFA has been embedded in the MPharm programme in RCSI. The MHFA course aims to provide students with mental health awareness, improve confidence in recognising the signs of mental health problems, reduce stigma and focus on initial management of mental health crises, such as suicide and psychosis.

A survey of pharmacy students and staff across Ireland and the UK aimed to identify attitudes and experiences of pharmacy students and staff in relation to MHFA. An online questionnaire was designed and distributed to undergraduate pharmacy students and staff in the UK and Ireland. Students were asked questions regarding their course and exposure to MHFA. One staff member from each university was invited to answer a modified staff version of the questionnaire to provide a curriculum overview and staff perspective. Over 230 students and 13 staff from 22 universities participated in the research.

The study found that only 11% of student participants surveyed had completed MHFA training of which the majority were from a single institution. Of these, students who had completed the training, the majority reported greater preparedness relating to mental health than those who had not.

Generally, students who participated in the survey did not deem mental health to be fully integrated across the degree programmes. The teaching focus appeared to be geared towards neuropharmacology or therapeutics with less focus on problem solving or communication.

The majority of students who took the MHFA course would recommend other pharmacy students to undertake the course. Of those who did not complete the course, the majority would welcome the opportunity to participate.

The study recommends MHFA could be implemented in pharmacy education as a way to focus on applied skills in mental health. It also states that it is imperative that the features that instil a positive environmental culture relating to mental health in the MPharm must be explored.

RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.