$5M to help community pharmacies support people with mental illnesses

Members of the Pharmacy Trial Program research team. From left Dr Sara McMillan (Griffith), Dr Sarira El-Den (USyd), Professor Amanda Wheeler (Griffith) and Dr Claire O’Reilly (USyd).
Members of the Pharmacy Trial Program research team. From left Dr Sara McMillan (Griffith), Dr Sarira El-Den (USyd), Professor Amanda Wheeler (Griffith) and Dr Claire O’Reilly (USyd).

Griffith University has partnered with The University of Sydney, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia in a research project aimed at enhancing the way pharmacies work with and assist people with mental illnesses.

Announced by the Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt, the project is part of the Pharmacy Trial Program funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the Sixth Community Pharmacy Agreement.

The Bridging the Gap between Physical and Mental Illness in Community Pharmacy (PharMIbridge) research project proposes an intervention into how community pharmacies in Australia currently work with and support people with mental illnesses.

Professor Amanda Wheeler, from Menzies Health Institute Queensland and Dr Claire O’Reilly from The University of Sydney will co-lead the project.

Professor Wheeler said the grant would allow the consortia to build on earlier research by Griffith University under the Fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement where community pharmacists worked with people living with depression and anxiety.

“The medication support service we piloted was found to improve people’s motivation and confidence to deal with their mental health problems and improved their medication adherence and quality of life,” Professor Wheeler said.

“This new funding will allow us to test the effectiveness of a pharmacist-led support service for people living with severe and persistent mental illness, particularly focusing on reducing medication-related problems and the management of physical illnesses which are common.

“This is important because of the significant life expectancy gap between Australians living with a mental illness and those without.” – Professor Amanda Wheeler

The research partners will be guided through the trial by representatives with lived experience of mental illness, as well as experts from organisations such as Mental Health Australia, Mental Health Commission, Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Primary Health Networks.

Dr O’Reilly from The University of Sydney’s School of Pharmacy said the project will allow the research teams from both institutions to progress the role of community pharmacy in providing mental health services.

“The awareness of how pharmacists can help with mental health has been growing, so this project is a great opportunity to expand that and develop a support service for people with more severe mental health problems,” Dr O’Reilly said.

“The funding will allow us to conduct the trial across four regions in Australia in different states and territories to train pharmacists and their support staff to be able to provide this new medication support service to people with severe and persistent mental illness.

“It will allow us to test and show evidence of the contribution of community pharmacists in this area. This  will hopefully lead to better health outcomes, but hopefully also further funding for this role for pharmacists.”

Griffith University and its trial partners would like to acknowledge funding from the Australian Government Department of Health for this trial.