Barriers removed for pharmacists to seek mental health treatment

Changes in Australian mandatory reporting laws will remove barriers to mental health treatment for health professionals.

Australian federal, state and territory health ministers at April’s COAG Health Council meeting, voted unanimously to remove barriers stopping registered health professionals getting treatment for impairments, including mental health issues.

Kay Dunkley, Executive Officer at the Pharmacists’ Support Service, believes this is good news for pharmacists, who are at increased risk of mental health issues due to their stressful working environments and the pressure to not make mistakes.

‘Stress can increase a pharmacist’s risk of developing mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. However, with mandatory reporting requirements, it can make pharmacists fearful of seeking the help they need to treat their condition and they can actually delay getting help until their condition is quite severe,’ Ms Dunkley explained.

‘The removal of requirements is going to be beneficial to pharmacists in terms of accessing the mental health services, particularly feeling comfortable in going to talk with their general practitioner (GP) and seeking referrals to psychologists and other treating doctors, such as psychiatrists where needed.’

The new legislation will also clarify reporting requirements, which have been ambiguous to many health professionals. Such ambiguity may contribute to inappropriate reporting and increased fear and anxiety for pharmacists who need help.

‘A doctor who doesn’t understand the reporting requirements might actually report a pharmacist who has come to them for help, and you may have some pharmacists who might not seek the help they need,’ said Ms Dunkley.

‘If someone is seeking treatment, they are actually doing the right thing,’ she added.

There are several avenues of mental health support for pharmacists, including the Pharmacists’ Support Service, Lifeline, GPs and psychologists. However, some pharmacists may try self-managing their health because of their healthcare knowledge, or be reluctant to seek help if they live in rural areas where they work alongside the town’s only GP.

‘Sometimes individuals have this sense that they are able to look after themselves because they’ve got a degree of knowledge, but I think it’s really important that they have an independent person, their own GP to assess them,’ said Ms Dunkley.

The new legislation will reflect the current Western Australian approach and include exemptions for reporting notifiable conduct by treating practitioners. However, past, current and the risk of future sexual misconduct must be reported. Similarly, current, and the risk of future intoxication at work, and practice outside of accepted standards, must also be reported.

The revised laws will offer strong protection for patients and health professionals, and be made consistent across all Australian states and territories.

Need help?

If you or a pharmacist you know needs help, contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service on 1300 244 910 (8 am–11 pm, every day of the year) or visit their website

You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 when this service is unavailable.