Simulated mental health first aid assessments involving role-plays with mental health consumers: Evaluating pharmacists’ performance and experiences

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Ng, Ricki
O'Reilly, Claire
Collins, Jack
Roennfeldt, Helena
McMillan, Sara
Wheeler, Amanda
El-Den, Sarira
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Sydney, Australia


Introduction. Healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, can recognise and assist people experiencing mental health crises. Despite this, little is known about how pharmacists assist and engage with people presenting with signs of mental health crises.

Aims. To examine the language used during suicidal assessments in simulated patient role-plays (SPRPs) by pharmacists trained in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and explore their experiences of the challenges of providing support to people living with mental illness or experiencing a mental health crisis.

Methods. As part of a training program designed to upskill pharmacists to support people living with severe and persistent mental illness, 55 MHFA-trained community pharmacists participated in audio recorded SPRPs of three crisis (suicide and mania) scenarios enacted by mental health consumers. Pharmacists were assessed on the language used during suicidal assessments. Post-SPRP, reflective debrief discussions with mental health consumers, peers and a facilitator, were analysed using inductive thematic analysis.

Results. The majority of pharmacists asked about suicidal ideation using appropriate, direct terminology. Qualitative analyses yielded three inter-related themes: (i) Relationship with the consumer was seen as a facilitator, which if supported by (ii) Appropriate verbal and non-verbal communication, could help with the (iii) Challenges with crisis assessment. Challenges included difficulties associated with initiating conversations about suicide and mania as well as anticipating how consumers may respond to direct questioning.

Discussion. While pharmacists demonstrated the correct use of language in asking about suicide post MHFA training, pharmacists felt uncomfortable initiating conversations around suicide, lacked confidence during crisis assessments and reflected on the difficulty in using non-stigmatising language. Future training, opportunities to practice and support for pharmacists should involve co-design and co-delivery with mental health consumers to ensure realistic, authentic learning and practice experiences.

Funding/Registration. This activity received grant funding from the Australian Government Department of Health. Registration: ACTRN12620000577910.

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Research in Social & Administrative Pharmacy

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2022 International Social Pharmacy Workshop Proceedings

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Ng, R; O'Reilly, C; Collins, J; Roennfeldt, H; McMillan, S; Wheeler, A; El-Den, S, Simulated Mental Health First Aid Assessments Involving Role-Plays with Mental Health Consumers: Evaluating Pharmacists' Performance and Experiences, Research in Social & Administrative Pharmacy, 2023, 19 (7), pp. e1082-e1082