Pharmacy students across the UK are missing out on vital mental health first aid training with many feeling the training is not properly integrated into their undergraduate degrees.  

A study, published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice this week (31 August), which looked into the state of mental health education at pharmacy schools, found that only 11% of MPharm students had completed mental health first aid training. 

The majority of these students said they found this training had prepared them for their careers.  

Out of the 245 survey participants, the majority (79%) did not receive any form of mental health first aid training while studying.  

The extent to which mental health education more broadly was embedded into the curricular varied between universities, the research found. Most (84%) of participants said they had learnt about how mental health drugs work in the body and around half said they had the experience of clinically checking prescriptions and learning about laws relating to mental health. 

At least three-quarters felt that mental health training, and specifically mental health first aid training, was not properly integrated into their course.  

One student said that there was ‘more emphasis surrounding the drugs and how they work and dosages rather than discussing how to talk with someone about their mental health.’ 

Another of the participants who did not pick up any mental health training while at university said : ‘More mental health training definitely needs to be provided within the degree. Perhaps students could be encouraged to attend the Mental Health First Aider course or the uni [university] could ask for a 2-day session to be run on campus—prioritising the healthcare students, e.g. pharmacy & nursing’. 

This comes as figures — collected by the BBC Shared Data Unit — show that referrals to mental health services and urgent crisis care in England have reached their highest point in two years. 

According to the data, nearly 300,000 referrals were made in March 2021, a rise of 19% from the same time the during the year. 

Throughout the pandemic, community pharmacists have also reported an increase in patients showing new or exacerbated mental health issues.  

The research also found that the mental health teaching was focused on neuropharmacology instead of the practical and communication skills required for day-to-day clinical practice across all patient-facing sectors. 

The researchers suggested that pharmacy educators and regulators ‘view their courses holistically so that the emphasis on mental health is proportional to the societal need’.