Focus on mental wellbeing

17 May 2018

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

For many of us, our local pharmacy is the first place we’ll go when we are unwell, but being unwell can be about more than just physical health. There is a common misconception that physical and mental health are separate conditions.  However, we know that poor physical health can lead to an increased risk of developing mental health problems[1]. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact on physical health, leading to an increased risk of some conditions. 

Even though we know that physical and mental health are fundamentally linked, we don’t focus on mental wellbeing as much as we should.

We have been working with Mind, the mental health charity to better understand the impact that pharmacy professionals can have on people living with mental illness.  Mind offers advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding

One in four people in a year will have a mental health condition[2] and 90% of people with mental health problems receive treatment solely in primary care[3].  Mental health conditions can impact us all.  It can affect how we think and feel in certain situations and how we deal and cope with life events. 

Pharmacy professionals already play an important role in helping to support people with their health and wellbeing.  Patients and the public have a right to expect safe and effective care and our standards for pharmacy professionals describe how safe and effective care is delivered through person-centred professionalism.

Changing perceptions

By having a better understanding and knowledge of mental health, pharmacy professionals can lead by example by challenging false perceptions and beliefs.  

An example of a negative stereotype of people with mental health is that they are likely to be violent or carry out crime.  However the reality is that they are more likely to be a victim of a crime or violence[4].

By encouraging a more open and non-judgemental culture, pharmacy professionals can help to reduce the barriers for people who want to reach out.  Encouraging people to talk about their feelings and supporting them to ask for help will demonstrate leadership in the journey to changing perceptions.

Supporting those with mental illness

Pharmacy professionals play an important role in supporting those with mental illness.  Whether it is a community setting, hospital, in a GP practice or in a prison, pharmacy professionals can make a contribution. 

In primary care this could range from signposting, enabling access to services and providing information on better health choices to helping to manage medicines and to promoting adherence.  In secondary care it may include reviewing medicine charts, carrying out medication reviews and counselling of medicines on discharge. 

Person-centred care is delivered when pharmacy professionals understand what is important to the individual and adapt the care they provide to meet those needs.  The support that pharmacy professionals can give can vary from area to area and depends on the local needs of the population and the needs of the individual.  But making the care of the person must always be their first priority.  

It may be hard for people to talk about their mental wellbeing.  So effective communication is key.  Using the right type of body language, tone of voice, and words can help ensure you are creating an open and non-judgemental environment.  Start off by using open questions to enquire how they are feeling and avoid clichés like ‘chin up’ and ‘try ignoring it’.  Some people may want to talk and others may not.  In addition, enabling people to have those conversations in a private or confidential space where they are in a comfortable environment will help to encourage dialogue.

Liz’s story is a real example of the impact that pharmacy professionals can have on people with mental illness.

Liz’s story

Liz was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003, following a psychotic episode for which she spent time in hospital. Over the years she has become very good at managing her condition – she sees her GP for repeat prescriptions of her medication, and looks after her wellbeing by doing yoga, taking long walks with her dogs, avoiding alcohol and reading a lot. She works full time as a private PA and lives with her partner.

 Last year, Liz popped in to her local pharmacy to pick up her repeat prescription. The pharmacist asked if he might speak with her for a minute and took her to one side. He asked her how she was getting on, whether she felt the medication was helping, whether she was eating well and how her moods were.

 Liz says: “This was the first time this had happened, and it really made a difference that he took an interest. He gave me a leaflet about local mental health services but, more than anything, it was good to feel as though someone else was looking out for signs I might not be doing so well. I now feel as though I have someone else to turn to if I can’t get an appointment with my GP for a couple of days – I know that a pharmacist would be an option for advice if I needed it.”

The Five Ways to Wellbeing[5] were developed by the New Economics Foundation from evidence gathered in the UK government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing.  They can be used in lots of different ways, to help people and staff to incorporate more wellbeing activities into their lives.

The Five Ways to Wellbeing


When it comes to wellbeing, other people matter. Evidence shows that good relationships – with family, friends and the wider community – are important for mental wellbeing.

Be active…

Being active is great for your physical health and fitness. But evidence shows that it can also improve your mental wellbeing.

Take notice…

It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.

Keep learning…

Learning new skills can be useful, but it can also positively affect our mental wellbeing.


Most people would agree that giving to others is good in itself. But it can also improve your mental wellbeing.

Find out more  


[1] Naylor, C., et al. (2012) Long-term conditions and mental health: the cost of co-morbidities.

[2] Adult Psychiatric Morbidity in England – 2007

[3] Gask, L., Lester, H., Kendrick, T., Peveler, R. (Eds.) (2009). Primary Care Mental Health. RCPsych Publications

[4] Mental Health Foundation UK

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