You probably walked by one on your lunch hour today. It’s a place where you can access confidential health information and important resources, yet you never need an appointment. All you have to do is walk in.
While most people live within five kilometres of a community pharmacy, not many know the full scope of information and services they provide. David Gardner and Andrea Murphy are working to change that, and at the same time significantly improving access to mental health care in Nova Scotia.
Their work is gaining national attention. A pharmacist and professor in Psychiatry and Pharmacy, Dr. Gardner was recently named one of 150 Canadians Making a Difference in Mental Health by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). He was chosen for the national award from over 3,700 names put forward from across the country and was selected as one of the four Difference Maker stories featured by the Globe and Mail.
Rethinking the role of the pharmacist
More than seven million Canadians will experience a mental illness this year, and many of them face significant barriers to accessing care. Recognizing the fact that pharmacists are the most accessible health care professionals in the country, Dr. Gardner co-developed The Bloom Program with Dr. Murphy, an associate professor with the College of Pharmacy at Dalhousie.
The Bloom Program provides enhanced support and care to people with mental health and addictions problems through their local pharmacies. Pharmacists are on the front lines of mental health care, even in crisis situations. Through their research, Drs. Gardner and Murphy have heard from hundreds of pharmacists who have been directly involved in the crisis management of a person at risk of suicide. Pharmacists are well positioned to identify people at risk and to work with the individuals involved and their care teams to ensure positive outcomes in the short and long term.
The program has received funding from the Nova Scotia government, which has integrated Bloom into its mental health strategy. Eighteen pharmacies are taking part in the program in Nova Scotia, and other provinces are looking at adapting it to their jurisdictions.
Drs. Gardner and Murphy have also launched Headstrong — Taking Things Head-On funded by Movember’s Canadian Men’s Health and Wellbeing Innovation Challenge. This project uses bold promotional materials in the retail space of community pharmacies to help men self-identify and take steps towards finding help with mental health and addictions problems. This can include speaking with pharmacists, learning about local resources and taking advantage of the curated resources recommended at headstrong.life. Twenty-one pharmacies are participating in this ongoing project.
An integrated circle of care
Both programs are changing perceptions of the community pharmacy, and equipping pharmacists to play a larger role in providing mental health information and support.
“We know that here in the Maritimes we have constrained health care resources and that the community pharmacy is so accessible,” says Dr. Gardner. “These programs are a kind of scaffolding that support pharmacists in their care of people with mental illness and addictions — they enable community pharmacies in providing enhanced, patient-centred care.”
“Pharmacists have always done this work, creating an integrated circle of care with other health care providers and family members,” adds Dr. Murphy. “We’re supporting the pharmacists to utilize knowledge they already have in a more structured way.”
Dr. Gardner says he was overwhelmed to receive the CAMH Difference Maker award, which recognizes the innovation and capacity-building nature of the programs he has created with Dr. Murphy.
“I’m really happy that the CAMH recognizes what Andrea and I see — that the community pharmacist plays a strong and important role in improving the health of Canadians.”
For more information, visit the More than Meds website.
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