InPharmacy spoke with Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, to find out the charity's objectives this year and how community pharmacies can help people with their mental health...
What is Mind all about?
Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. Every year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. Mind exists to provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. We campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
What are the organisation’s priorities?
In recent years we’ve seen a huge shift in attitudes towards those of us experiencing mental health problems. Thanks partly to Time to Change, the anti-stigma campaign ran by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness for 15 years, mental health is now something to be honest about – not ashamed of. But there’s still such a long way to go.
We’ve identified three areas where mental health support is urgently needed: poverty is one of the biggest risk factors for developing a mental health problem; people from racialised communities are more likely to experience a mental health problem but less likely to get support; and in 2020, one in six young people had a mental health problem, compared to one in ten in 2017.
We need to make sure Mind is reaching those who need us most so that everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.
How has the mental state of the nation changed during the pandemic? How much of an issue is it now compared to pre covid?
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, our underfunded and overstretched mental health services resulted in too many people being left without the support they needed. Since then, the pandemic has taken its toll on the nation’s mental health – whether that’s bereavement, the impact of lockdown, or the effects of the recession on our jobs and livelihoods. We’ve noticed a surge in demand for Mind’s support, including through our website, Infoline and our local Minds across England and Wales. In March of this year, there were almost 12,000 calls to our Infoline, compared to just under 5,000 in March 2020.
The latest NHS figures also show the number of people in contact with mental health services is the highest since the first lockdown (1.27million) and the number of urgent referrals to crisis care has increased by a fifth (19 per cent) since the beginning of the year.
To what extent are community pharmacies important to people with mental health problems who choose to take medication?
Community pharmacists play an important role in answering questions about medicines, including options for alternatives and side effects. If you’re experiencing a mental health problem, you might see many doctors over the course of your treatment, but pharmacists are more likely to remain consistent for a longer period of time. This allows you to build a point of familiarity within the community pharmacy. Pharmacists can also be consulted at various points of the medication process and provide an alternative environment to consulting a GP, while still getting quality medical advice.
Do you have any advice to health care professionals (HCPS) about how best to support people with mental health problems? What are the biggest/most common mistakes HCPs make when providing care to people with mental health problems?
Everyone’s experiences will be different but here are some things that healthcare professionals can do to support someone living with a mental health problem.
- Listening to and believing people who are opening up about their mental health problems is very important. It often takes a lot for someone to disclose they may be struggling. Listening and taking on board what they are saying will improve their ongoing relationship with the health care sector. This is particularly true for women, people from LGBTQIA+ communities and people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds who are often misdiagnosed or have symptoms misattributed to other factors of their day-to-day life.
- Pharmacists should open up a dialogue about medication. For example, when people come in to pick up their medication, asking a question such as 'how are you getting on with it?' can be really beneficial. Some people might not engage in the conversation, but others may mention problems or difficulties they are having which the pharmacist can talk through with them.
- Think about offering advice in the context of a framework of treatment. For example, mindful and relaxing activities, like walking, exercise and meditation do have benefits to mental health, but these should be thought of as a way to begin treating a mental health problem, offering the individual the chance to return and seek further help if these initial solutions don’t work.
- Help people make an informed decision. It is essential that HCPs explain people's options to them fully to help them make a choice that will work for them, as well as acknowledging that there is no 'one size fits all' solution. This may take more time, but it increases the likelihood of a successful treatment programme. It also makes the individual feel more in control and knowledgeable about their options.
Many pharmacies are in danger of closure due to funding cuts to the sector. How might this effect people with a mental illness(es)?
Community pharmacies reduce how much someone may need to travel to get their medication and helps facilitate medication delivery. For those with symptoms that include finding it difficult leaving the home, travelling long journeys, using public transport and other issues with being outside, this is an essential function of a local pharmacy.
An increased cost of travelling further to access medication is also a barrier to those with mental health problems living on a low income or in an area with poor transport links. The alternative for many may be not getting their medication at all.
How should healthcare workers look after their own mental wellbeing?
Healthcare workers are responsible for delivering vital treatment and crucial support, and this has never been more apparent than during the pandemic. For healthcare staff to be able to offer the best care they need to feel valued and supported.
The 2017 Thriving at Work employment review made a number of recommendations for how employers could better support the mental health of their staff and improve workplace culture. The ‘core standards’ were accepted by the Government, with implications for their own staff, including civil servants and NHS employees.
As healthcare staff are currently placed under even more pressure, adopting these recommendations has never been more important. They include things like employers making sure staff check in and consider their mental health; offering additional support for staff during busy periods; senior leaders promoting employee wellbeing by speaking out about mental health and acting as role models for self-care; and making sure mental health is incorporated in to current training programmes so staff know their wellbeing is a priority.
Connecting with others is also essential for all of us during this time. If you’re struggling with your mental health, talk to someone you trust, such as a loved one or colleague. If you don’t feel willing or able to do this, consider online peer support groups like Mind’s online community, Side by Side. Available to anyone aged 18 and over, this moderated community provides an opportunity for people to discuss their problems, share potential solutions with others who know what they’re going through.
If your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are having a serious impact on your day-to-day life, speak to your GP.. If you can, exercise and getting outside for some fresh air can be beneficial for our mental health. Try to build physical activity into your daily routine. If work takes up the whole day, try to get outside for your lunch break. If you do have any time spare between shifts, exercise at home whether that’s an online workout, or even just cleaning, dancing or using the stairs.
As part of its centenary year, NPA is partnering with Mind to help raise funds to support their vital efforts in helping people experiencing mental health problems. Go to www.npa.co.uk/representing-you/100-years/npa-fundraising-for-mental-health-charities/ to see how you can get involved.