Mental health awareness and how your pharmacist can help

July is Mental Health Awareness Month and according to statistics released by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), as many as one in six South Africans suffer from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems – and this does not include more serious conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. 


The prevalence of mental health disorders

Even more alarming statistics were revealed at the Mental Health Summit held recently in Johannesburg stating that as many as 1 in 3 South Africans will suffer from mental health issues at some point in their lives.

SADAG states that in South Africa, 21.4% of teenagers have considered committing suicide due to a combination of issues such as family problems, violence, emotional or sexual abuse, bullying, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and exam stress. Unfortunately, 60% of teenagers do not seek assistance, mainly because they do not know that there are resources available.

What is mental illness?

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behaviour. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and addictive behaviours. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time.

Unfortunately, in South Africa there is still a stigma around mental illness which is a major barrier to the effective treatment and management of the conditions as it prevents many people from seeking the help they require.

How Pharmacists can help?

Jackie Maimin, CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) says that with such a high prevalence of mental health disorders in South Africa the community pharmacist plays a vital role in the identification, support and management of mental health disorders.

“Pharmacists are often the healthcare professionals who have the most contact with a person with mental health issues – and may in fact be the first person to refer a patient with suspected mental health issues for further treatment. Due to the stigma associated with mental health disorders, having a healthcare practitioner with whom they feel comfortable asking for advice enquire about their well-being, can be very important to patient care,” says Maimin.

“Pharmacists are able to contribute to health care teams by detecting and resolving or preventing medicine related problems by providing comprehensive counselling to patients on the safe and effective use of their medicines. Pharmacists can reinforce primary prevention of many stress-related mental disorders, such as depression, with health promotion and lifestyle modification activities in the community and pharmacists can refer to appropriate healthcare practitioners when necessary.”

According to Maimin, the lack of adherence to psychotropic medicines remains a highly prevalent problem. “Pharmacists can support patient adherence to medicine treatment plans – treatment of mental health disorders usually requires some form of pharmacotherapy and the correct and regular taking of that medication is essential to remission, restoring previous levels of functioning and preventing re-occurrence.”

“Your pharmacist is a medication expert who is trained in pharmaceutical care, which is basically getting the right medication to the right person at the right time for the right condition with a minimum of adverse effects. As we move through life, our metabolism and health status changes which means our medication needs change and your pharmacist is able to assist with this.”

“With the right health care management and support, patients experiencing a mental health disorder can boost their well-being. Community pharmacies play an important role in helping patients stay mentally healthy,” concludes Maimin.

The ICPA urges South Africans who are struggling with a stress-related condition or are suffering from a mental health disorder to visit their community pharmacy.  A confidential, friendly chat with your pharmacist may be all that is required to get you back onto the road to recovery.  “Don’t suffer in silence – rather reach out and ask your pharmacist for help and get the treatment needed to restore your health and sense of well-being.”

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