“Pharmacy teams already support patients in relation to self-harm and suicide, often relying on their personal experience in the absence of formal training,” says Dr Hayley Gorton, who helped launch IASP special interest group Suicide Prevention in Primary Care
Pharmacists can play an important role in suicide prevention, which is a major priority around the world. They gain insights into people at risk and refer them to help when needed.
But with specialist training they could achieve more, and a University of Huddersfield senior lecturer in pharmacy has developed an innovative way to introduce future practitioners to the possibilities.
Dr Hayley Gorton is also one of the founding members and co-chair of a new international research group that will expand knowledge of suicide prevention among pharmacists plus a wide range of other healthcare providers.
Named Suicide Prevention in Primary Care, it has been launched online and in 2021 will make its international conference debut. It a special interest group of the long-established International Association for Suicide Prevention, IASP.
It has been formed by four experts based at UK universities. Alongside Huddersfield’s Dr Gorton, they are Dr Maria Michail of the University of Birmingham, Dr Faraz Mughal at Keele University and Dr Pooja Saini of Liverpool John Moores University. Also contributing is Jo Robinson, an Associate Professor at the Australian youth mental health body named Orygen.
The new special interest group argues that: “Primary care has a vital role to play in a system-wide approach to suicide prevention. General practice and community pharmacy are key settings for identifying, communicating with and supporting people who self-harm and might be at-risk of suicide”.
The group’s stated mission is to prevent suicidal behaviour, alleviate its effects, and provide a forum for academics, mental health professionals, crisis workers, volunteers and suicide survivors.
Suicide and self-harm formal training
Dr Gorton has carried out research into the use of Big Data as a way to gain greater understanding of suicide and self-harm. And when she was awarded a Fellowship of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, she travelled through the USA and Canada to explore the international role of pharmacists in suicide prevention.
“Pharmacy teams are on the frontline of healthcare,” she says. “Pharmacists see lots of people every day and have good relationships with them, but at the moment we don’t have any formal training in suicide prevention.”
Dr Gorton is co-author of a recent article based on extensive interviews with community pharmacy staff in the UK, aiming to appraise their current and potential contributions to self-harm and suicide prevention.
It concludes that: “Pharmacy teams already support patients in relation to self-harm and suicide, often relying on their personal experience in the absence of formal training. With the implementation of evidence-informed training and clear referral pathways, this could be done more effectively.”
At the University of Huddersfield, therefore, Dr Gorton has started to bridge the knowledge gap by pioneering special learning sessions dealing with the subject of suicide prevention. These combine both mental health nursing and pharmacy students.
The response has been good, she said, with many students who are future pharmacists including suicide prevention in their continuing professional development portfolios.