Anxiety is often untreated – how pharmacists can help


A new MedicineWise program aims to increase the number of patients seeking help for anxiety and other mood disorders by educating healthcare professionals.

Anxiety disorders, including panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder and generalised anxiety disorder, are the most common mental health conditions in Australia. According to a 2008 national survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of statistics the conditions affect 14% of people aged 16–85 years. But despite their ubiquity, a study has indicated that it takes Australians between the ages of 18 and 77 an average of 8.2 years to seek treatment for anxiety and mood disorders.

Pharmacist, mental health researcher and lecturer at the University of Sydney Dr Claire O’Reilly, told Australian Pharmacist that there are many reasons why patients might delay seeking treatment for anxiety disorders, including a lack of awareness surrounding the condition.  

‘The symptoms are a bit varied between the different types of anxiety disorders, so when we talk about anxiety there’s all sorts of different anxiety disorders and there can be a lot of crossover between them,’ she said.  

‘But also, we all feel stressed from time-to-time, so the feeling of anxiety is a normal mechanism for us. It’s about being able to recognise when it’s more than that. When it’s more severe and longer lasting, it interferes with your work and your relationships. And I think people aren’t always able to pick that up themselves.’

She said that community pharmacists could play an important role in recognising symptoms of anxiety in their patients, and encourage them to seek specialised treatment.

The new program from NPS MedicineWise is based on new clinical practice guidelines from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, and aims to equip healthcare professionals to perform a similar function by increasing their access to educational tools, including free one-on-one educational visits for GPs, access to a webinar, clinical audit, patient decision aid and other information for health.

NPS MedicineWise told Australian Pharmacist that pharmacists working in general practice are invited to attend small group meetings to discuss therapeutic areas, including resources to support patient decision-making around medicines and health technologies. For practices enrolled in MedicineInsight, these facilitated quality improvement meetings that involve all practice staff, including pharmacists, and utilise individualised practice data to support interventions and to improve patient outcomes in general practice.

Dr O’Reilly, who has consulted with NPS MedicineWise about the involvement of pharmacists in the program, welcomes educational opportunities for pharmacists in the area of anxiety.

‘I think pharmacists can upskill by learning about psychological therapies so that we’re informed when approaching people about treatment options. Pharmacists don’t necessarily have to be experts in this area, but it’s about having an awareness of the options and knowing where to refer people for help,’ she said.

Dr O’Reilly said that education in this area is particularly important given the sensitive nature of mental health. While some patients might already suspect that they are experiencing anxiety, others could be more resistant. In these cases, she advised pharmacists to be aware of patients’ need for privacy, and offer to have a conversation with patients in a private area. She also stressed the importance of having information on hand, such as self-care cards, BeyondBlue information or NPS MedicineWise resources. There are also some PSA State offices that offer Mental Health First Aid courses.


  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.
  2. Thompson, A., Issakidis, C., & Hunt, C. Delay to seek treatment for anxiety and mood disorders in an Australian clinical sample. Behaviour Change 2008; 25(2):71–84. At: