Are Community Pharmacists Doing Enough to Help Patients with Mental Health Medication?

Portrait of Dr. StimmelApproximately 26 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, and in 2011, nearly 20 percent of the 100 most frequently dispensed prescription medications were for mental health.

With such a widespread health issue, it is imperative that pharmacists are doing their part to ensure that individuals with these diseases are receiving the appropriate medications and are taking them correctly. However, according to a new study conducted by Professor Glen Stimmel and College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists Foundation President Charles F. Caley, approximately 75 percent of individuals living with mental illness and their caregivers seldom or never receive safety or effectiveness monitoring assistance from community pharmacists.

This was one of the key findings of Stimmel’s survey, “Characterizing the Relationship Between Individuals with Mental Health Conditions and Community Pharmacists,” conducted in conjunction with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the CPNPF. It is the first of its kind to focus on the attitudes and perspectives of mental health individuals and their caregivers rather than the pharmacists treating them.

“We partnered with NAMI to survey 1,000 of their client members and family members to assess their experiences with their pharmacists and obtain suggestions of how that interface could be improved,” explains Stimmel. “Our overarching goal is to identify ways to connect psychiatric pharmacists with community pharmacists to enhance the care for persons living with mental illness.”

Perhaps the biggest obstacle currently is a lack of privacy: 58 percent of those surveyed said that having no available space for private conversations with their pharmacist prevented them from speaking openly about their medications.

However, not all the findings were negative. Ninety-one percent of individuals taking mental health medication are very comfortable going to community pharmacies, and 83 percent report feeling respected by their pharmacist. More than half of the individuals surveyed taking mental health medications reported having a strong professional relationship with their pharmacist.

“The survey results suggest areas for action to strengthen the role of community pharmacists as part of overall treatment teams for individuals living with mental health conditions — as well as other medical conditions,” concluded the study.

Stimmel and Caley noted the potential for pharmacists to empower individuals with mental health conditions and their family members to serve as active partners in managing their treatment. Pharmacists also can better serve as a line of defense in identifying issues for further discussion with an individual’s doctor before concerns turn into adverse outcomes. And the more than 40% of patients who do not have a strong professional relationship with their pharmacists should be encouraged to seek out such pharmacists who can provide that level of care.

The survey is part of a multi-phase project sponsored by the CNPF.

“Phase 2 of this project will involve analysis of the survey results along with development of strategies to address any issues of concern,” says Stimmel. “We hope to use this information to help create specific educational materials and/or programming for both community pharmacists and consumers to improve the interface between the community pharmacists and for persons living with mental illness who take medication for psychiatric disorders.”

The full survey results are available at http://cpnp.org/foundation/newsletter.