Expanding Pharmacists' Role In Rural Mental Health

Angela Murray, Senior Director, Healthcare Product Marketing | May 14, 2024


The suicide rate in America is the highest it’s been since the 1950s. Rising feelings of anxiety and depression are being reported in multiple demographics. Even more insidious, according to the National Institutes of Health, mental illness — which often goes undiagnosed — increases the risk of opioid use disorder and can interfere with a person’s ability to make healthcare decisions. This is clearly illustrated through the persistent and devastating impacts of the opioid crisis, which has disproportionately affected rural areas of the country. 

These are just glimpses of the overall picture — the tip of the iceberg when it comes to America’s poor management of mental health. Exacerbated by the tragedy of COVID-19 and the social struggles that accompanied lockdown, mental health issues have continued to fester and spread in America over the last several years. It’s not surprising that 58 percent of ASHP’s Forecast panelists believe the mental health crisis will be declared a public health emergency before the end of this year. 

Although no official declaration has been made, the need to expand mental health care is clear and urgent, especially for rural America. Those who struggle often do so in silence. That’s universal, but it’s especially worrying in communities that lack access to traditional forms of healthcare. It’s important that medical professionals and the healthcare industry as a whole prioritize strategies for providing individuals with the mental care they require, or at least connect them with viable alternative options. 

In those aforementioned rural areas, pharmacies often serve as local hubs for healthcare and health education. As the conversation around expanding provider status for pharmacists continues, considerations of their role in mental health should be on the table. With certifications, pharmacists can be trained in providing this type of healthcare, as well as continuing medication adherence efforts. Even without a certification, pharmacists can still serve as the first point of contact for those struggling and put them in touch with the appropriate providers, either locally or via telehealth. 

Pharmacists continue to deal with extreme workloads, so any hesitation to add an additional service is understandable. However, helping even just one person suffering from mental health issues would have enough of an impact for this possibility to be prioritized. In addition to providing potentially life-saving care for community members in need, evolving the role of pharmacists to let them expand into mental health care could provide an additional stream of revenue and help combat the economic squeeze pharmacies have been facing. It’s a win-win for both pharmacies and the underserved populations they treat. 

Contributions from Grace Nieters, Inmar Healthcare