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“Maintaining genuine, reliable and reciprocal relationships with others is THE most important thing we can do to support our own mental health.”

Nabila is a trainee pharmacist working at a Community Pharmacy in the North East of England after having studied at Sunderland University. She is passionate about promoting good mental health practices after having personal experience of mental illness and supporting family and friends through mental health challenges too. In this Story, she chatted with us about the importance of connecting with others, even when we’re not motivated to do so, and shares her tips on how to practice good mental health in the pharmacy.

One of the 5 Ways to Wellbeing is connecting with others. Why do you think it’s so important to develop and maintain strong, healthy relationships?

Oftentimes when our wellbeing or mental health start to decline, we tend to isolate ourselves from close family and friends. The phrase ‘shoulder to cry on’ comes to mind and is relevant here because it emphasises the importance of reaching out to people we trust when we need some support or guidance. It also implies that going through difficult moments on our own is very difficult and almost nigh on impossible. You could even argue that maintaining genuine, reliable and reciprocal relationships with others is THE most important thing we can do to support our own mental health.

It’s been a tough year for socialising and seeing other people. How have you been able to keep connected with your friends and family?

When lockdown first started, I made chatting to my family on the phone a daily priority and even scheduled it in my diary – it was something I committed to doing because I knew talking and seeing them improved my mood and how I felt. I also sent birthday cards and presents in the post and kept in regular close contact with my friends via a WhatsApp group so we could share events or issues that were happening with each other. When we were allowed to see each other in public, I would often arrange a time where I could meet them face to face, as there really is no substitute for actually seeing someone in real life.

What do you think the pandemic and the lockdown have taught us about how we connect and communicate with each other?

Pre-lockdown, we were used to interacting and socialising with people whenever we wanted; we could even say we took it for granted. All of a sudden, all that stopped and being told to stay apart from other people and stay inside was the norm. We are now living in a time when everyone is using technology a lot more, whether that’s video calls, social media, online shopping or even organising an online event. While these things have definitely helped us, especially to interact with each other, they aren’t substitutes for seeing another person face to face. Fortunately, I think the pandemic has made us realise how important it is to organise face to face interactions with others, despite us all being busier than ever.

From your experience and talking to others, what impact has the pandemic had on trainees’ wellbeing and mental health this year?

From working in the pharmacy and speaking to customers it is clear that lockdown and the pandemic has negatively affected our mental health. Trainee pharmacists have had it difficult with the new restrictions that Covid has inevitably placed on us and the unique situation we have found ourselves in. There was no precedent to help us guide the impact this may have had on our training to become pharmacists. There were some positives; it made our pharmacy team a lot closer to each other than we had been before and I found myself amongst people I would be happy to call my family, despite having only worked with them for less than a year. But overall, I think the impact on most people has, unfortunately, not been a good one.

Is there any advice or tips you’d give to trainees who are moving into the next chapter of their careers?

I think that one of the most important things you can do as a pharmacist is to practice good self-care and wellbeing. You can not look after patients, check medication and solve queries to the best of your ability if you are not in the best mental and physical health. I think it’s almost a norm for healthcare professionals to put other people first and to think about themselves last and as altruistic this may be, ultimately it will be detrimental to our own health and careers, and eventually could lead to a deterioration in patient care. Make your physical and mental health a priority and it will reap benefits in your practice as a pharmacist. Just as you schedule work, also schedule that dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a while or a day out with some mates and have a good time. Make sure you’re eating well, sleeping well and taking a lunch break as well as all of your paid holidays. Try to relax and fully unwind after work in the evenings so you are feeling refreshed and revitalised the next morning. I know it’s a cliché but you really can’t pour from an empty teacup. And if you do find your mental and physical health declining, it’s very important to seek help sooner rather than later. Going to see your GP or a mental health professional is vital in getting the right treatment and care so you can recover. My main advice would be to enjoy the next steps in your career – but remember to not neglect your own health in the process!

If you are struggling with your mental health and need support, you may benefit from the free and confidential counselling service provided by Pharmacist Support. 

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