Removing stigma from the patient-pharmacist relationship

Benita Bamgbade knew what the medical literature said. Pharmacists don’t counsel patients with mental illness as often as they counsel others with, say, asthma or diabetes. She also knew the likely causes of this discrepancy: a lack of confidence and comfort in talking to patients with stigmatized mental health disorders.

“They’re people, and they have an illness,” Bamgbade said. “But they are not their illness.”

Bamgbade comes to Northeastern from the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned her doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences. For her dissertation, Bamgbade developed an intervention focused specifically on young adults in the African American population, which is the least likely demographic to seek help for a mental illness. The reasons for this run deep.

Bamgbade explained that without proper counseling, patients can receive suboptimal care. This is especially critical with mental illness medications, which often don’t start working for several days or weeks. If a patient doesn’t know to expect the delay, he or she might assume the drug doesn’t work and stop taking it altogether.

It’s not that pharmacy students don’t receive cultural sensitivity training, Bamgbade said. They do. But implicit bias and stigma toward mental illness often precludes them from providing adequate counseling. Pharmacy students need help understanding a patient’s lived experience, and then they need practice communicating what they know.

“I’m proud that I’m here,” Bamgbade said. “This is the perfect place for me to launch my career and build and continue to grow.”

Read More