What about pharmacists’ mental health?

Pharmacist Support Chief Exec, Danielle Hunt, explains why encouraging better mental health awareness and practice within the sector is crucial in helping pharmacists deal with high levels of stress and burnout…

Pharmacist Support Chief Exec, Danielle Hunt, explains why encouraging better mental health awareness and practice within the sector is crucial in helping pharmacists deal with high levels of stress and burnout…

Most pharmacists come into the profession with high hopes and expectations around serving the community and assisting the general public with their health. In many cases, this dream becomes reality and we hear many wonderful stories from our pharmacy family of career satisfaction and a profound sense of doing good for the community. As Chief Executive of the profession’s charity, Pharmacist Support, I see first-hand the due respect that being a pharmacist brings and I’m proud of the work we do to support such a caring profession. The last 12 months have shown us all that pharmacists are willing and able to go even further in their unwavering commitment to protecting the health of the general public.

But what happens when the job becomes less of a dream and more of a battle?

Today more than ever, healthcare professionals face enormous pressures in their work lives, and, as a result, many struggle with high levels of stress and burnout. In our recent Workforce Wellbeing Survey hosted jointly with the RPS, almost nine in ten pharmacists working in Great Britain told us that they’re at high risk of burnout. This is an incredibly high and concerning figure. What’s more, nearly half of the respondents reported that their mental health was either not good or poor, and almost all of the respondents reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had also impacted their mental health and wellbeing.

So, it comes as no surprise that one-third of respondents also told us they had considered leaving their job and a further third had considered leaving the profession altogether.

Of course, this is the last thing we want to happen in a sector full of trained, talented and essential healthcare professionals. Our community pharmacy teams are acutely knowledgeable and skilled in supporting the public in understanding and managing their mental health. But who is there to support those pharmacists who are struggling with their own mental health issues?

From working alongside organisations and businesses within the sector, we understand that most employers do provide mental health and wellbeing support. However, we also learnt from our recent survey that many pharmacists feel uncomfortable accessing it. Reasons for this centred on confidentiality and trust issues, in particular stigma, judgement and potential harm to their career. Of this group, those working in community  were most reluctant to access support.

I feel we can’t talk about mental health within pharmacy without addressing and acknowledging that the global pandemic has had a huge impact. The past year has been incredibly challenging, with so many unknowns. There is still much uncertainty ahead, so it is vital we be proactive as a sector in addressing some of these issues and concerns ahead of any ensuing fall out.

Needless to say, pressures at work are only the tip of the iceberg.

We deeply understand that mental health pressures come from a variety of sources and present themselves in many different ways. We’ve recently been supporting someone who experienced a severe mental breakdown following a traumatic experience in their personal life. This led to complex addiction and financial difficulties, and ultimately being removed from the register. This individual is receiving ongoing support from the charity and, after a lot of dedication and work to improve their circumstances, is hoping to have their license reinstated so that they can get back to their dream of supporting others. It was particularly poignant to hear them say that they ‘couldn’t have achieved what they have so far without our financial help, encouragement and advice’, and highlights why having easily accessible, independent and confidential support for those in the profession is vital.

Encouraging better mental health awareness and practice within the pharmacy sector is crucial in helping pharmacists avoid these feelings of burnout, deal with the pressures and stress – no matter the source – and ultimately, ensure they feel supported and want to continue in their roles. At Pharmacist Support, we feel collaboration is critical in ensuring our pharmacy family is well-equipped to prioritise their own mental health.

We’ve been working with the sector to improve mental health in pharmacy.

As the profession’s independent charity, we were pleased that many organisations across the sector supported us in our ACTNow campaign last year, with some signing up to be campaign sponsors. We received a great response to the campaign and our wellbeing hub, with people telling us they ‘gained insight into methods that genuinely helped promote wellbeing, especially during this pandemic’ and that ‘it felt reassuring to have the feeling of being burnt out validated’. One comment that particularly resonated with me was from someone who said they ‘felt less alone’. As a charity whose vision is that no one in our pharmacy family will face challenging times without us by their side, it was reassuring and affirming to know that all our hard work in responding to the pandemic had alleviated someone from the feeling of isolation.

We understand there is still a great deal of work to do to build a better understanding of the free and confidential support we provide. Additionally, with such a high percentage of people within the profession at risk of burnout, it is essential for the charity to continue to work in partnership with organisations across the sector to raise awareness of the importance of wellbeing and mental health within our profession. There are some evident gaps in support and barriers to access which we hope to address. This is why we’ve committed to expanding our wellbeing service this year, focusing on developing a clear pathway of support that includes more practical and emotional assistance for those experiencing poor mental health. We also plan to enhance our volunteer schemes to ensure they reflect the diverse experiences, backgrounds and needs of the individuals within it, as well as to help us increase awareness. And finally, following the success of last year’s wellbeing campaign, we are also committed to running our ACTNow campaign again.

We believe that by working together to encourage those across our pharmacy family to seek help, and support them without stigma or judgement once they do so, is the only way we can ensure our deserving pharmacists are able to cope with the extraordinary stresses they face.

This article first appeared in Pharmacy Business Magazine in February 2021.