Protecting your mental wellbeing

As the nation cautiously emerges from months in lockdown, Anshu Kaura
reminds fellow pharmacists how important it is to look after their own mental health…

As a pharmacist who works both in a community pharmacy and within a GP practice, I can safely say that the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on myself and my colleagues both personally and professionally.

Pharmacy teams need to protect their own resilience

During the height of the pandemic, it wasn’t just patients who felt the anxiety and concern, us as pharmacists did so too. Yet it always remains the case that we need to stay ethical and professional. However, whilst maintaining these standards, pharmacists and their teams mustn’t overlook their own mental health so they can continue to provide vital services within the community, without experiencing a burn-out.

Since the beginning of the crisis, pharmacies have had to change their standard operating procedures and adopt interim guidelines to cope with the unexpected changes such as increased deliveries for ‘shielding patients’, staff shortages due to compulsory isolation and new social distancing guidelines. All these changes have been a lot to keep up with, and mentally quite draining.

We have been experiencing challenges since before lockdown when initial panic amongst the public set in. Prescription volumes increased at least two-fold, over the counter paracetamol sales grew exponentially and in some cases medication supply could not keep up with the demand.

We have had ‘out of stock’ notifications of key medications, not only because of the increased demand but also due to other issues associated with medicine procurement.

As a pharmacist, I have seen the anxiety patients have felt in securing their vital medication. Patients who have not had asthma medication in years were concerned about the virus’ respiratory symptoms, so they ordered repeat inhalers only to increase demands in pharmacy.

Having to make important decisions and recommendations about people’s health can weigh heavily on pharmacists. Because of this, health and social care has been identified as one of the most stressful professions. Despite this, whilst many of my friends and family have been working from home, I have felt proud to be going to work every day and support the nation during this unprecedented time. However, I would urge all pharmacists to look after and consider their own mental health as we ease out of lockdown.

Pharmacy teams need to protect their resilience as we still have a long way to go in controlling the pandemic and supporting individuals with chronic conditions who need continued management.

In order to help other pharmacists, I have recently co-authored a CPD module on mental health which aims to aid pharmacy teams in managing
their mental health in such a demanding work environment. Outlined below are some of the top tips used in the module:

Be more self-aware

For pharmacists to prepare for the stress and strain of life after lockdown and protect their mental well being, there are a number of measures we’re recommending including developing greater self-awareness. It’s not until we are entirely self-aware can we approach personal challenges with more optimism and pragmatism. A quick self-assessment of your skills needed as a pharmacist can help you identify any areas you can work on which can help ease any stress points in pharmacy.

Stress triggers

Not only do you need to be self-aware of your strengths and weaknesses, you should also be aware of the triggers of your stress. If you are feeling
overwhelmed at work, do you know what is causing this? Trying to pin-point the exact causes of your stress can help you chose decisive action to take to help prevent and manage this.

When identifying stress in yourself, talk to your colleagues too. They may be struggling but have no one to talk to about it. If you can all support each other, you will create a much happier and healthier work environment.

Draw a line

Another vital tool for pharmacists which we speak more about in the module is generating and upholding good boundaries between your professional and personal life. Whilst it’s important to give your all when you’re at work, you need to also reserve time for yourself and your family.

Reflect on if you have poor work/life boundaries by asking yourself questions such as “I often believe the needs of others are more important than my own”. If you believe this statement to be true, you need to address how you change this and recognise your needs are equally as important as those of your colleagues and patients.

Knowledge sharing

Many pharmacies recruited pre-registration students early for support during this difficult time and many of these individuals will continue in their positions as we ease out of lockdown. I would also encourage you to check in with them, not only to impart your own advice, but to ask them about their experiences.

They have just been out of university and may have a newer perspective on overcoming challenges, so working together you may be able to come up with strategies to really enhance the running of your pharmacy post lockdown.

Seek support

Finally, there are many tools pharmacists and other pharmacy staff can access to improve their mental health. The NHS has launched a free national support and wellbeing helpline for NHS staff, which pharmacists have access to, providing the tools needed to cope with the pressures currently faced.

Furthermore, for pharmacists who have particular struggles, Pharmacist Support, a charitable organisation, can provide independent and trusted advice and services.

Above all, we must remember that resilient people, which many pharmacists are, understand that suffering is part of each human’s existence. We must accept it and focus on the things we can positively change. As pharmacists during the current pandemic, we must remain compassionately professional and continue to support those who need our services.

Anshu Kaura is a pharmacist at LloydsPharmacy