More Than Meds: Pharmacists and communities partner for better mental health

Friday, June 21, 2013 - 1:40pm

BY TED NAYLOR

Drive into any small town or village in Nova Scotia and you’re most likely to find a pharmacy without much trouble, often acting as a place to talk with a health care professional, the local corner store, grocery store, postal outlet and department store all rolled into one.

Through the “More Than Meds” project, pharmacists are stepping into that central role by partnering with community members to provide more than expert advice regarding medications.

Drs. David Gardner and Andrea Murphy  are working with the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia to build a network of pharmacists and people with lived experience of mental illness in Nova Scotian communities. More Than Meds is a project focused on promoting, supporting, and improving mental health and well being through local relationships among pharmacists, individuals with lived experience of mental illness, and other supportive community members.

Pharmacists represent one of the most accessible points of health care for Nova Scotians. About 80 per cent of people in the province live within a five-minute drive of one of Nova Scotia’s more than 300 community pharmacies.

For those living with mental illness, this access to highly knowledgeable professionals in our healthcare system holds great value.

“To enhance the information, education and support provided to people living with or otherwise affected by mental illness throughout Nova Scotia, the More Than Meds project is collaboratively connecting community pharmacists with people who live with a mental illness; this is a significant contribution to our health care system,” said Stephen Ayer, executive director of the Schizophrenia Society. “By way of our provincial network of community-based volunteers, the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia is proud to have recruited people with lived experience of mental illness, and their supporters, to participate in this very important project.”

Pharmacists are often underused or are not working to their full scope of their practice when providing services for individuals living with mental illness, said Dr. Murphy.

“Pharmacists are well positioned to help individuals with lived experience of mental illness, and especially those who often have difficulty getting the right care at the right time,” she said.

Dr. Gardner said pharmacists can capitalize on local knowledge of resources and supports from within communities.

“A great way to do this is to partner with people in communities who have lived experience of mental illness and who are knowledgeable about various support groups and organizations,” he said.

The project recently held a full one-day train-the-trainer event in Halifax, bringing together pharmacists and people with lived experience of mental illness and supporters. The day was set up for sharing experiences and insights and exploring how pharmacists and pharmacies could partner with local organizations and people with lived experience to act as resource centres through navigation activities and providing educational outreach.

The group of six pharmacists and six community members are now actively recruiting to train an additional five or more pharmacists in their local home communities as well as hosting community “How’s It Going” sessions, bringing together community members and pharmacists to discuss health.

More Than Meds is funded by the Canada Post Foundation for Mental Health and the Drug Evaluation Alliance of Nova Scotia.