Pharmacists are trained to give expert advice about the use and supply of drugs and medicines. They dispense medications prescribed by doctors, some might prescribe, and they ensure that laws, rules and regulations around medications are followed.

Pharmacists will be able to advise doctors and other professionals about the use and effects of drugs and medicines, and can advise people about medications they may be taking. In mental health services they will have specialist knowledge about medications that are used, and will speak to people who are taking them about their effects.


Real life experience

A prescribing mental health pharmacist visited the Recovery College in Durham to facilitate sessions on three classes of psychiatric medication – antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilisers. He was happy to share his in-depth knowledge of the clinical pharmacology of these drugs, which was at a level beyond that of GPs and most other mental health professionals. He talked about the conditions these drugs were used to treat, and the symptoms associated with the conditions, before explaining how the medications worked and the most common side effects of each drug. As well as explaining how these drugs worked from a scientific perspective, he was also able to explain things well in layman’s terms.

He explained how drugs from the same class of medications can often work in vastly different ways, and as such, the best medicine for one person may not be the best for another. In addition, he was also knowledgeable about the start-up effects commonly associated with psychiatric medications – and, in contrast to many health professionals, was aware of the need for a gradual taper when stopping many drugs so as to avoid unpleasant discontinuation symptoms.

People attending the sessions appeared to gain a lot from having the chance to speak to the pharmacist, and for some people, this appeared to have been the first time that they were able to discuss any concerns around their medication in such an in-depth manner. Some students had experienced unpleasant side effects from prescribed drugs, and the pharmacist was happy to suggest alternatives or any other ways that they could alleviate or reduce any adverse effects. Some people in the group had experienced rare, yet possible, side effects from prescribed medication, and the pharmacist validated their own, unique experiences in a way that other health professionals had not. I got the feeling that by acknowledging their personal experiences and offering them assistance, that he made people feel empowered in a sense, and therefore more willing to discuss any medication-related concerns with their care team in future.