Mental Health Course

All students in the School of Pharmacy must participate in an eight-hour training program to learn to recognize and help mental illnesses and crises as pharmacists.

Nicole Scott, a pharmacy graduate student from Bonne Terre, Missouri, who completed Mental Health First Aid, said when she first heard about the program, she wondered what she could do as a pharmacist, until a patient approached the counter on the verge of suicide. Scott said the pharmacist sat down and talked with her and gave her some resources.

“It was a couple weeks later she came back and she said, ‘I was gonna kill myself that night. I was done, I couldn’t handle my life anymore,’” Scott said. “And at that point it made me realize that these relationships being taught, the information to be able to recognize it and how to approach them without pulling out a textbook and having to go down into a setting of, ‘OK, we’re gonna go sit down on a couch and we’re gonna talk,’ And being able to do that just in everyday life.”

Scott said mental health first aid is important for pharmacists because in a lot of cases, they see patients more often than doctors do.

“We can really connect with our patients,” Scott said. “And that was the whole point of doing this, was to be able to make that connection and be able to recognize, ‘Hey, they’re not OK. We need to step in and see what we can do to help.’”

Scott said students are taught that they cannot diagnose or treat mental illness, but to observe and help. She also said they are taught about the stigma surrounding mental health.

“A lot of people don’t wanna ask for help, they see it as a sign that society really looks down upon [them], so they really helped us try to put ourselves in their position and don’t think down upon them and try to understand that what they’re going through is a mental disorder, is a mental crisis, that they need help,” Scott said. “It’s not something that they brought upon themselves.”

Misty Gonzalez, clinical associate professor in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, said there’s been a recent push in graduate programs, and specifically in pharmacy schools, to support general wellbeing, especially students’, who often live in a higher stress environment.

“Most students tend to seek their peers for support or talk to their peers about any problems that they have, and we wanted to make sure that our peers are well equipped to recognize when somebody is having more significant problems and help connect them to care, and so it’s something that we thought we knew some other schools of pharmacy were incorporating into their curriculum to get everybody trained as a mental health first aider,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the goal is not to train students to be mental health professionals.

“It’s just to recognize some of the symptoms that are more troubling or more problematic and help relay that person to an appropriate person of care, whether it’s their prescriber, or maybe they need to call 911,” Gonzalez said.

Scott said the videos bring viewers into the mind of what it’s like to experience various mental illnesses, as well as what it’s like to watch someone else experience it and how to handle it. Gonzalez said students then discuss the case scenarios together.

“We have the students discuss like, ‘What would you do in this scenario? What would be optimal, what were things that the characters did in this scenario that could have been better?’” Gonzalez said.

 Gonzalez said since the first training, they’ve been assessing how the class uses mental health first aid and retention through surveys.

“The vast majority of the students have used that training for primarily their peers or somebody that they know, which is amazing, and a significant majority of students have also said that there were times that they were going through something where they could have benefited from someone who was mental health trained to help guide them through how they can seek help,” Gonzalez said. “So now they know that all of their peers are mental health trained and they can feel more comfortable talking to them about what’s going on.”

Kelly Gable, professor and director of wellbeing and resilience in the School of Pharmacy, said the class is required for all pharmacy students.

“Our class that was not included in this because of the timing is our current fourth year pharmacy students, so we offered up two opportunities this fall, actually, for them to come back and take the class if they wanted to,” Gable said. “So not everyone received the training in the class, but people who were interested had the opportunity to do it.”

Gable said in the future, they’re hoping to train those precepting students, such as those who work in local hospital systems and community pharmacies.

“They’re rotating through and learning from them,” Gable said. “So our hope is to offer up mental health first aid to our preceptors and to our alumni who didn’t have the opportunity to take it while they were here.”

Gable said anyone interested in mental health first aid can participate in the program.

“I think it’s such a beautiful course for health care providers, but it’s for anyone: neighbors, friends, family, clergy, anybody,” Gable said. “It has practical utility just like CPR does in cardiac and respiratory lifesaving.”

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