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Walgreens to train pharmacists, associates in mental health first aid

BY David Salazar

Walgreens is kicking off Mental Health Month in the United States with a collaboration with the National Council for Behavioral Health and the American Pharmacists Association. The organizations and the retailer are working together to train certain Walgreens pharmacists and associates in mental health first aid.

Mental health first aid, which is administered by the National Council, trains participants in mental health literacy, risk factors and warning signs for mental health, as well as addiction concerns and strategies to recognize both crisis and non-crisis situations. The pharmacy staff it will train will be those focused on outcomes, and the company also will train 300 human resources employees in mental health first aid.

“With the growing need for services and resources to help those living with mental health conditions, as well as substance use and addiction, we can play an important role by giving our pharmacists and certain team members the training to help those who may be in crisis,” said Alex Gourlay, co-COO of Walgreens Boots Alliance. “We’re proud to further our commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of our communities through this initiative and working with the National Council and APhA to continue an important dialogue around mental health and how we can help.”

Walgreens said the effort builds on its efforts to combat opioid abuse and misuse as well as its resources around mental health, noting that roughly 8 million American adults currently are living with a mental health condition and addiction. APhA and the National Council said the training for pharmacists would be tailored to them, and it will be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.

“One in five people experiences a mental health or substance use issue in a given year and it’s likely that most of those individuals use a pharmacy’s services during that year,” said Betsy Schwartz, vice president of public education and strategic initiatives at the National Council for Behavioral Health. “Thanks to the leadership of Walgreens, the National Council and APhA, pharmacists trained in Mental Health First Aid can be a first line of help for people when they possibly need it most.”

The organizations said that through this effort, mental health first aid training eventually will be available to any pharmacist industry-wide with the opportunity to earn continuing education credits through APhA.

“APhA is pleased to play an active role in this partnership,” said APhA CEO Thomas Menighan. “We applaud Walgreens, the National Council, practitioners and all other employers who recognize and meet the needs of pharmacists and the patients they serve. The issues of substance use and mental health are real and acute. Arming our front lines with these training and educational resources is a strong move in addressing this crisis.”

Walgreens said that for employees, it offers various services through its free employee assistance program, including allotment of no-cost behavioral health visits for employees and their families. The company said the health plans its sponsors also include comprehensive mental health care for eligible employees.

“The overall health of our 240,000 team members and their families is a top priority and as a company that champions health and well-being in our communities across the United States, we strive to do everything we can as an employer to keep our workforce healthy, physically and mentally,” said Kristin Oliver, Walgreens’ senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “We’re proud to offer this training program to hundreds of employees within our human resources department, and through this collaboration, to give more of our workforce critical tools and skills to better serve our customers and our company.”

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