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Pharmacists on the Front Lines With Mental Health First Aid

“It didn’t take much convincing for Clark Bishop, PharmD, to decide to become a trainer in Mental Health First Aid,” said a recent article highlighting the importance of pharmacists and their staff being trained in this potentially lifesaving program (“On the Frontlines: Equipping Pharmacists with Mental Health First Aid,” Pharmacy Today, December 2018).

Bishop acknowledges that he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of a devastating tornado in Moore, Okla., in 2013, but it took time for him to push past the stigma to get help. Now a partner and pharmacist manager at Hutton Pharmacy in Blackwell, Okla., Moore applied for and won a scholarship from the Community Pharmacy Foundation to be trained in Mental Health First Aid. Because of his experience, he went on to become a Mental Health First Aid Instructor.

For Bishop, who is literally on the frontlines when someone comes in to fill a prescription for an antidepressant or antianxiety medication, the skills taught in Mental Health First Aid just make sense. “Your counseling point for someone newly diagnosed with depression is that the medication might take six to eight weeks to work,” Bishop said. “Mental Health First Aid gave me other ways to give them coping strategies while they wait for the medication to start working.”

The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), which has supported three pharmacists becoming Mental Health First Aid trainers, offers continuing education credits to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who become trained in Mental Health First Aid. Additionally, NCPA helped develop pharmacy-specific coursework for Mental Health First Aid so pharmacists can roleplay situations they may encounter in their everyday work.

In Iowa, where the Iowa Pharmacy Association has trained about 90 pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and student pharmacists to date, the undertaking is part of a larger effort to improve the state’s behavioral health system. Nationally, the American Pharmacists Association has made Mental Health First Aid a policy topic for 2019.

Pharmacists are part of a growing segment of society that recognizes the importance of being able to reach out to someone who is struggling with a mental health or substance use issue, initiate a conversation and steer the person toward community resources and professional help, if needed. “Being that first line of defense to triage folks to proper help and give them the most powerful thing you can give them – hope – that’s what Mental Health First Aid is designed to do,” Bishop said.

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