This past April, I had the opportunity to attend the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At the conference, I presented my Honors Junior/Senior project “A Consumer-Led Intervention to Improve Pharmacists’ Attitudes Toward Mental Illness: A Pilot Study.” It was very rewarding to share my research with others who feel as passionately as I do about improving the provision of pharmacy services to patients with a mental illness.
After working at the VA outpatient clinic and pharmacy in downtown Boston, I learned how to interact with and help patients with a range of mental illnesses, often fighting substance abuse disorders, homelessness, and other social and medical problems. Taking the extra time to reach out to these patients, ask them how they are feeling, and how they are doing with their medications is important in building a trusting relationship with the pharmacist and ensuring that they are using their medications properly and effectively. This is particularly crucial for patients with complex psychiatric medication regimens, as drug interactions and side effects commonly occur.
I knew I wanted to do a project based on my interest in mental health, but I was unsure what direction to go until I found a professor who shared my passion. Dr. Nathaniel Rickles, Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice and Administration at Northeastern, recently published a research study that found that pharmacists in Massachusetts perceive themselves as having more negative attitudes toward patients with schizophrenia than doctors do, and those with less negative attitudes were more likely to provide services to patients (1). I wanted to do something to change the negative attitudes and stigma that many pharmacists have toward patients with a mental illness. From my work at the VA, I knew that these patients could benefit from additional support from the pharmacist.
Dr. Rickles and I developed a 2-hour Continuing Education program, which we ran for 50 pharmacists in December 2012. We brought in two consumers with a mental illness who spoke to the pharmacists very openly about their personal stories and experiences. Based on survey results, there was a significant improvement in pharmacists’ attitudes toward those with a mental illness, as well as their willingness to counsel patients with schizophrenia after the Continuing Education program. These effects were maintained at the follow-up survey two months after the program. Our program showed that a consumer-led intervention may be an effective way to improve the attitudes of pharmacists and increase the provision of pharmacy services for patients with a mental illness.
At the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs, I presented my project amongst 140 posters on research in the field of psychiatry. It was rewarding to share my research with pharmacists and fellow pharmacy students from all over the country who are as passionate about improving the care of mental health patients as I am. I had the opportunity to network with pharmacists who practice in the field of psychiatry and discuss ways that we can improve the care of patients, as well as brainstorm ideas for future research. A lot remains to be done to improve the care of this patient population on a large scale, but our study showed that a simple Continuing Education program may be an effective intervention and warrants further evaluation.
Alison Da Costa, Pharmacy
(1) Rickles NM, Dube GL, McCarter A, Olshan JS. Relationship between attitudes toward mental illness and provision of pharmacy services. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association. 2010;50:704–713.