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Pharmacists’ expanding role in suicide prevention

The Scottish government has announced plans to make suicide prevention training mandatory for healthcare professionals, including pharmacists. Irish Pharmacy News spoke with local pharmacists to see if this is something that could work in an Irish context.

Mayo pharmacist Des Treacy  said: “Suicide prevention is really important – the figures these days are just through the roof. The government put a lot of resources into bringing down the number of road deaths over the past few years and the numbers reduced, from over 400 deaths on the roads per year to around 180. That figure is still too high, but it is a vast improvement. Mandatory training for pharmacists on suicide prevention would go some way towards addressing the problem, but it would only be the tip of the iceberg.”

Treacy tells IPN that mandatory suicide prevention training for healthcare professionals is a good idea, but that the pharmacists are just “one cog in the wheel”. In order to bring the figures down, the HSE would need to be better resourced.

“Every area of healthcare is under strain at the moment so capacity is an issue for everyone. Psychiatric services are under pressure and professionals working in that sector are already under-resourced. Cognitive behaviour therapy can be a very valuable tool in suicide prevention and patients seem to find it effective so there are opportunities that we can build on. Of course pharmacists want to help people who are in distress and if someone comes in looking for help no one will be turned away, so yes the training would be helpful.“

Lorcan Gormley is a pharmacist in Dublin who is a survivor of suicide. He spoke to IPN. “Every death in a community is a tragedy but suicides are felt even more keenly. Pharmacists are pillars of the community and every pharmacy in Ireland will have lost a patient to suicide. To be able to prevent a needless death is something that can only be welcomed.” 

The CSO publishes its Vital Statistics Yearly Summary every year and 392 deaths by suicide were recorded in 2017, down slightly from the 399 recorded in 2016. The highest suicide rate was in Co. Monaghan, with 19.2 deaths by suicide per year per 100,000 population, followed by Cork city (18.0), and Leitrim (15.4).

A spokesman for the Scottish government said, “Community pharmacists have a key role in raising awareness about suicide and helping break down the stigma often associated with suicide. They also can help by signposting people who are at risk of suicide to appropriate resources and support services.” The government has also committed to funding the creation of “a core general module on mental health and suicide awareness” by May 2019, accompanied by a “suite of additional ‘bolt on’ modules appropriate for particular professional groups.”

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