Pharmacists manage their patients’ health on a daily basis, but often experience preventable health issues themselves. Helen Tester and Paulette Storey from charity Pharmacist Support describe the common problems they are presented with, and explain how to prevent and overcome them.
In your experience, are pharmacists generally good at looking after their own health?
Working in the heart of the health service and being at the cutting edge of research and developments in healthcare would suggest that pharmacists are well equipped to look after their health. We have little evidence to prove how good they are at applying their knowledge to their own lives but we do know that many pharmacists report stress at work. In a survey of over 700 pharmacists carried out by Pharmacist Support in 2012, 53% of respondents said they felt stressed ‘often’ or ‘all of the time’, with 78% reporting the source of this stress to be ‘all work’ or ‘more work than home’.
What preventable health problems do pharmacists contact you about most often?
Some issues affecting people who contact us include stress, anxiety, eating problems, and drug and alcohol misuse. Having an understanding of personal trigger points and an awareness of when a situation is becoming out of control can help prevent some of these problems from growing into a more significant health problem. Sometimes, by the time someone contacts Pharmacist Support the situation can already be serious, with individuals suffering some long-term symptoms such as panic attacks, distorted thoughts and addictive behaviours.
What advice would you give pharmacists on preventing these problems?
Learning to look after your own health is the key. Looking after your well-being, both physical and mental, through taking regular breaks, doing things you enjoy, exercising, getting a good night’s sleep and spending time with friends and family can help build resilience.
Pharmacy can be a lonely profession and many pharmacists feel isolated. The habit of sharing how you feel on a day-to-day basis with a friend or colleague can help you keep perspective on situations, find solutions and build a healthy coping strategy.
With stress-related problems, it is helpful to be able to recognise and admit what the issue is then seek out the appropriate help. Knowing your triggers and developing a strategy for recovery can help prevent these problems becoming more complex. There are many tools available to help both combat and prevent the effects of stress, such as mindfulness, relaxation, physical activity and cognition behavioural therapy (CBT) based programmes.
In stressful times, it is also important to be aware of your physical health because you may be more prone to illness. Paying attention to your diet, taking regular exercise and attending routine health screenings are valuable ways to prevent illness and also spot the early warning signs of long-term conditions.
What should pharmacists do if they are concerned about a colleague’s health or well-being?
In 2014, Pharmacist Support received more than 700 enquiries on a variety of issues including finance, preregistration training, employment and health. People were mainly enquiring about issues relating to their own situation but around 7% of enquiries last year (where recorded) were made by people calling on another’s behalf.
It is not always easy to spot when a colleague is facing difficulty so checking in on a regular basis is a good way to spot when someone is in trouble. Offering support goes a long way to letting people know they are not alone. This can simply be going for a coffee, leaving work at the same time or a walk round the block. Being open about your own struggles may help to open up the conversation.
In a regulated profession, where fitness to practise has to be declared, there may be a reluctance to talk about health concerns. This is a sensitive area, especially if mental health issues are involved. Admitting there may be a problem is often the hardest step and helping someone acknowledge that there is an issue can be a positive way of providing help.
This may be difficult to do where the person has not recognised there is a problem that is affecting their performance. Someone concerned about a colleague’s health and well-being may wish to seek help themselves with the situation. A variety of interventions can be implemented in a discreet and confidential way that may allow the individual to continue to practise safely. In some instances, self-help works well — for others, a more supported approach may be needed.
What support is available for pharmacists whose health is impacting their work?
Our newest service at Pharmacist Support offers interventions that can help prevent issues like stress, anxiety and addiction from growing into debilitating conditions. We have four e-therapy packages that focus on stress, anxiety, depression and body image, a confidential listening telephone service through our Listening Friends, soon to be supported by a trained counsellor, and well-being workshops running across the UK. There is also a Health Support Programme that offers help for people with addiction problems. Some employers may have an employee assistance programme in place or offer other health and well-being support.
Help can also be found through the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s mentoring programme and the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education’s coaching service. There are a host of national self-help health support groups who provide helplines, local groups and resources that Pharmacist Support is able to signpost people to.