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Walgreens addressing mental health needs

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DEERFIELD, Ill. – Walgreens has completed its first phase of training in Mental Health First Aid, administered by the National Council for Behavioral Health, for all of the company’s health outcomes pharmacists, the company said Wednesday. The training initiative was first announced last May in conjunction with Mental Health Month in the U.S.

Rina Shah

Mental Health First Aid trains participants in mental health literacy, understanding risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns and strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations. It is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.

Walgreens pharmacists, whose role is focused on improving patient outcomes and medication adherence, are also the first to complete the specialized training developed through a collaboration between Walgreens, National Council for Behavioral Health and the American Pharmacists Association.

“Every day, in communities across America, our pharmacists are talking with patients with a wide range of conditions, including mental health,” said Rina Shah, Walgreens group vice president of specialty and retail pharmacy operations.  “With the prevalence and rise of incidents of depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD and others, specialized training can be key to identifying warning signs, and working with other providers, even finding gaps in care or treatment.  We’ve long believed pharmacists can play an even greater role as part of patient’s care teams, and we’re proud to be at the forefront of our industry expanding our efforts in the area of mental health to help meet this growing need.”

Wednesday’s announcement comes as many mental health centers and providers across the U.S. report greater patient demand. Mental Health America has seen significant increases in the number of daily screenings completed for depression (64%) and anxiety (70%) from January through April 2020. And a recent Primary Care Collaborative study cites 74% of clinicians surveyed saying they expect to see a surge in patients with mental health needs coming out of the pandemic.

“Mental Health First Aid training is more essential than ever, as our country risks a wave of mental illness in the wake of the tragic COVID-19 pandemic,” said National Council for Behavioral Health President and chief executive officer Chuck Ingoglia. “We are extremely gratified that these Walgreens pharmacists have received this important training and have the capacity to provide vital assistance and counseling when demand for Mental Health First Aid is expected to reach historic levels.”

Walgreens spearheaded the collaboration and training initiative in 2019, and recognizing it could benefit the industry at large, the pharmacist training will become available to any pharmacist industry-wide this summer, along with the opportunity to earn continuing education credits through APhA.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened what was already a pressing need for pharmacy personnel: increasing their awareness of acute mental health issues and equipping them with tools to help direct patients to the mental health resources they need,” said Scott Knoer, APhA CEO/EVP designate. “We are grateful to Walgreens for its partnership in granting profession-wide distribution of this much-needed training program.”

Mental Health First Aid and the Workplace

Also as part of the collaboration between Walgreens and the National Council, and furthering Walgreens’ commitment to workplace mental health and wellness, the company recently completed its initial phase of Mental Health First Aid training with 65 team members in the company’s human resources department.

For team members, Walgreens offers a wide variety of services through its free employee assistance program, including an allotment of behavioral health visits available at no cost for team members and their families. All Walgreens-sponsored medical and prescription drug plans also include comprehensive mental health care for eligible employees.


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