Royal Pharmaceutical Society

The role of pharmacy in mental health

We spoke to our colleagues at the College of Mental Health Pharmacy about the vital role pharmacists play in ensuring the best patient care possible for those with mental health issues.

1 in 4 people experience mental health difficulties each year in the UK and pharmacists are an important part of looking after people's mental health. In community pharmacies, pharmacists are often the healthcare professional who has the most contact with a person with mental health issues. Asking someone how they are and having somewhere they feel comfortable to ask for advice can be very significant. Linking with community psychiatric nurses and knowing who to contact if someone has stopped taking their medication or is acting out of character could avoid a possible admission. Many psychotropic medications cause adverse effects such as drowsiness or agitation at first. Patients should be given advice on managing side effects and encouraged to persevere with their medication and to discuss adverse effects with their prescriber or pharmacist.

In mental health hospitals, there are specialist mental health pharmacists who work closely with secondary care teams to tailor medications to individuals whose illness has relapsed, or who are experiencing a mental illness for the first time. They attend multidisciplinary team meetings, help patients to choose the best medication for them, help to simplify complex medication regimes, advise on therapeutic drug monitoring and provide education and training on medicines to staff, patients and carers. They are also often involved in discharge planning, ensuring ongoing supply of specialist medications such as clozapine, and monitoring of others, for example, lithium. Some may work within Crisis & Home Treatment or other outreach teams to help treat people in their own homes.

Medication for psychosis or mood disorders can cause weight gain and metabolic disorder and smoking is more prevalent in people with mental illness. Patients with mental illness therefore often have comorbid physical illnesses such as diabetes and COPD which may require hospital treatment. Patients with dementia may require admission for physical health conditions related to ageing and are likely to find it difficult being in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers. Pharmacists can ensure that essential medication treating a mental illness is not stopped suddenly, and that medication that may worsen physical health or increase confusion is avoided.

By knowing about mental illness and its treatment you can improve people's mental health using the skills and viewpoints that only a pharmacist can have. More information is available from the College of Mental Health Pharmacy (CMHP) or our mental health toolkit which has been designed to support the integration of pharmacy into care pathways for mental health in primary care.

-  The College of Mental Health Pharmacy


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