PETALING JAYA: Despite being medically trained, a pharmacist may still be unprepared when a person walks in and says he feels down and suicidal.
With statistics showing that mental health is a concern among the young and old alike, efforts are increasingly being made to offer help to them.
Enter the Community Pharmacists as Allies and Responders in Mental Health (MHCare) by the Malaysian Community Pharmacy Guild (MCPG).
The group has devised a training module to enable community pharmacists to fill the gap where the management of mental health is concerned.
MCPG president Foon Hwei Foong said the training would serve as a “refresher” to fortify pharmacists, who work in independent and chain pharmacies, public clinics and hospitals, when they come across people with suicidal thoughts in their community.
“These ‘allies and responders’ will pick up skills on how to identify silent sufferers and respond accordingly,” she said.
With the training, it is hoped that the pharmacists will be able to do the preliminary before referring the patients to the networking system.
“For some patients who are under follow-up treatment, we can help them to monitor their side effects as they await their next appointments.
“We can also answer the uncertainty and concerns they may have,” she said when met after a training session here for 200 community pharmacists on Saturday.
This first batch of trainees received their MHCare certification during the Mental Health Summit organised by MCPG.
Foon added that the list of MHCare-certified community pharmacists would be published on MCPG’s website.
Rachel Gan, who is MCPG Kuala Lumpur and Selangor branch chairperson, said the training focused on depression, anxiety, insomnia and good sleep hygiene.
“Community pharmacists often encounter customers who have trouble sleeping,” she said.
The training also touched on anti-depressants’ side effects and how to manage them; active listening, empathy and how to handle suicidal behaviour and thoughts, anxiety and panic attack; and lastly diet, which plays an important role in mental health, she said.
Sharing a personal experience, Gan said a customer once called her and told her that she had suicidal thoughts.
“I spent two hours talking to her. That’s why we need to know how to respond and be a listener,” she said.
MCPG secretary Lovy Beh said mental health was also a concern at workplaces in Malaysia, adding that she had come across firms with more than 50% of staff facing mental issues.
“What is the company doing about it? How can we help? That’s why we came up with this training.
“Many may face mental health issues but they don’t know what to do. It’s our job to help them, whether they should seek help or others, instead of just asking for medicine,” she said.
She also said the public healthcare system should work with its private sector counterparts in decongesting patient loads by making use of existing resources and premises.
Much like how the government recognised and reimbursed pharmacists who took up the role of vaccinator at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Beh said such collaboration would go a long way in ensuring that public healthcare was not overly stressed.
Kampung Tunku assemblyman Lim Yi Wei, who launched the summit, said the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted the realities of the state of mental health in the country, where “stigma still exists, and many do not know where to seek help and the healthcare system is stretched beyond its limits”.
She said her meetings with organisations such as the Social Security Organisation, Women’s Aid Organisation, All Women’s Action Society and the Befrienders found that the rate of distress calls did not reduce compared to pandemic levels.
“Many are still struggling to get by, although we can now return to work, socialise and play,” she said, adding that community pharmacists play an important role in reaching out to people in their areas because their attention and advice could hugely impact how a patient views their treatment.
Last month, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa said the issue of children and adolescents being at risk of mental health disorders was not getting the attention it deserved.
And earlier this month, she told the Dewan Rakyat that the B40 group and urban poor were the most vulnerable to mental health issues.
Citing a 2022 study that screened 336,900 individuals, she said Kuala Lumpur was the region with the highest number of anxiety and depression sufferers.