Supporting Innovation in Pharmacy for a Healthier Canada

Pharmacists: an untapped resource for mental health

Dan Burton

OCTOBER 2019 - A new study out of Alberta is looking to the pharmacist as a potential resource in helping assess and treat patients with mental health disorders in the community.

With the help of funding from the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy’s Innovation Fund, the University of Alberta team of researchers and front-line pharmacists are implementing a pharmacist-initiated mental health monitoring and intervention program based in the community setting. “We are grateful to have the opportunity to partner with CFP as an unbiased organization that supports pharmacy initiatives,” says lead researcher/pharmacist Dan Burton.

For the study, up to 10 pharmacies in Calgary and surrounding areas will be involved with some 120 participating patients over a six-month period. The intervention group will be recruiting and monitoring patients with major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder, providing interventions as needed and collaborating with patients’ physicians. The control group will receive usual pharmacy care.

Participating pharmacists will receive mental health training materials and have support throughout the pilot and are expected to begin recruiting patients by March 2020.

“Given community pharmacists’ training and access, they are in a great position to help the healthcare field better manage depression and anxiety,” says Burton. “They could take the burden off physicians and other providers by stabilizing patients on medication—plus sometimes these patients need more frequent touch points of support and we have that opportunity in the community.”

Burton says he and his team were inspired to develop the study by the recent Bloom Program pilot in Nova Scotia, which showed the positive benefits community pharmacists can have in helping patients with mental health issues. “With additional prescribing authority in Alberta there’s potential for us to do even more,” he says. For example, Alberta pharmacists can titrate and augment therapies by prescribing higher doses, or add on medications to help patients reach maximum treatment benefits. They can also switch therapies if patients aren’t responding or have uncomfortable side effects. “That’s a huge opportunity for pharmacists,” he says.

Burton hopes that positive study results will also encourage other pharmacists to get more involved in helping patients with mental health disorders. “There is still a significant amount of stigma out there around mental health. Pharmacists are also very type A personalities and sometimes we need concrete data before we believe we can do it,” he says. “If the study goes well, it will be a good starting point to build from.”

Burton and his team are one of three Innovation Fund grant recipients for 2019.