Mentally healthy pharmacists

Kay Dunkley

It is important for all pharmacists to focus on our own mental health to ensure we are in a good position to look after others. Two sayings that come to mind are “put on your own oxygen mask first so that you can help others” and “you can’t pour from an empty glass”. Mental health is a continuum and we all sit someone along the line between mental health and mental illness. To keep ourselves closer to the healthy end of the spectrum we need to pay attention to our own needs.

Generally working as a health professional, including pharmacy, is considered to be more stressful than many other careers. We spend a lot of time working under pressure to assist those who are unwell. Patients are not always appreciative of what we do and can be challenging to deal with. We may be on the receiving end of someone’s frustrations with inflexible systems and their anxiety about their own health or the health of a loved one. In addition in pharmacy mistakes can cause injury or death and so we need to be accurate and pay attention to details. There is also a need to ensure we are up-to-date and undertake professional development, health professionals never stop learning. Pharmacy is also heavily regulated and there are a plethora of legal and ethical issues to consider on a daily basis. For these reasons taking time to invest in our own well-being is important to ensure that we can deal with the many stresses of our career and our workplaces.

A particular focus for maintaining good mental health is work-life balance. This is different for each individual and we should avoid comparing ourselves to others. We each need to find our own balance and avoid pressure to deviate from this. Working hard for short periods can be enjoyable but if you are no longer enjoying long hours and demanding schedules and you find your work is interfering with your own well-being or your ability to maintain personal relationships then it is time to slow down. However for some work is life and they may choose a lifestyle which focuses on their work. However it is good practice for everyone to have regular work free days for rest and recreation. Often problems may be solved outside the work environment or ideas for a new approach may come from left field when you step away from work. Doing the same thing day in and day out can stifle a creative approach. It is good to be open to ideas from other industries and from interactions with people outside our usual circle. Remember that even as a professional you work to live and you do not live to work. You will never regret spending time doing things you enjoy but you may regret missing out on life if you work too much.

As a pharmacist it can be hard to ask for help. This is both during the work day when things have not gone to plan or if you are struggling in other ways in your life. Pharmacists are usually high achievers, we push ourselves very hard to achieve and have high expectations of ourselves. This tendency towards perfectionism can stop us asking for help even in simple things such as asking a patient to wait for a few minutes so that we can take a short break or asking a colleague to cover us while we eat our lunch. It can be even more difficult to seek help on more significant matters such as our own health. Every pharmacist needs to have a General Practitioner and have a regular health check. Do not be tempted to self-diagnose or self-manage a medical condition, even if you know what it is. We can never be objective about our own health and it is very easy to either trivialize a medical condition or become overly anxious about a minor symptom. This includes mental health symptoms. If you are finding life stressful or are struggling with routines that were previously easy seek help early. Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed to participate in counselling or have medication prescribed if you need it. You are human just like your patients. Early intervention will have a far better outcome than waiting for a crisis. Remember you have a responsibility to care for yourself so that you are competent to care for others.

The Pharmacists’ Support Service provides support over the phone to all Australian pharmacists, interns and pharmacy students every day of the year between 8.00am and 11.00pm AEST. Callers can remain anonymous and all calls are confidential. The service is provided by trained volunteers who are all pharmacists or retired pharmacists. We are there to support you in times of stress.

By Kay Dunkley, Executive Officer at Pharmacists' Support Service.

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