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By: Aiśa  Mrkulic, PharmD. Candidate c/o 2022

Thrive NYC’s Adult Mental Health First Aid Training Program has taken Johnnies by storm! Three sign-ups and a wait-list later, I managed to secure my spot as an attendee. Students of various majors, who belonged to any one of a wide range of student-led organizations, flooded into Marillac Auditorium with a shared goal. ​Fortunate to have learned about the wellness event from the American Pharmacist Association’s social media postings, I would be one of the three attendees representing the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (CPHS). Not much will get a college student out of bed around sunrise, especially one belonging to the CPHS, but for those fortunate enough to face the certification opportunity, this accomplished exactly that.

Psychotherapists Gregory Payne and Rex Jones—of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene—served as our instructors for the eight hours of attentiveness and participation it would take to earn an official document, attesting to the achievement of proficiency in “Mental Health First Aid”. Most rewardingly so, the certification is valid for a generous three years! Bearers of the certificate have been trained to provide initial help to people experiencing problems related to mental health due to depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorders. Some of the specific skills practiced include non-judgemental listening, guided breathing-exercises, and resourcefulness.

I, for one, appreciate St. John’s University’s commitment to increasing awareness regarding the importance of mental health. The collaboration with Thrive NYC was initiated by not one, but numerous student-led organizations. One statement of Gregory’s which resonated with me was the following— “be resourceful”. Indeed, even those who might have attended for mere resume fodder were under no circumstances going to leave without tools to show for it.

Although these resources started with CPHS, they do not need to confine themselves to familiar circles. The above tools come from the repertoire of some of Thrive NYC’s best and it is my hope that they will serve as steppingstones for growing awareness, understanding, and compassion.

As the most accessible health care providers, as well as the one of the most trusted, pharmacists can play a key role in mental health disorder detection and intervention.  These defenders of public health are in constant contact with members of the community, who they proudly serve. Fortunately, for those enduring psychological struggles, pharmacists are no strangers to the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders such as changes in mood and decline in hygiene, to name just a few. Often, pharmacists are undeservingly pigeon-holed to their dispensing role. Educate, advocate, vaccinate, and counsel are just some of the many verbs which rightfully define what comes with the title.

Though we are drug information experts professionally, “human” is how we ought to be seen primarily, for it is what we are. With the capacity to deliver compassionate care, pharmacists attempting to equip patients who are suffering with coping are unlikely to be ill-received. The encouragement to seek appropriate assistance from trained professionals cannot be overemphasized. At the very least, pharmacists should make sufferers aware of the fact that the National Hotline for Suicide Prevention is in fact armed with such individuals!1 Indeed, “qualified” need not take the form of an M.D. or Ph.D., something much of the public falls short of understanding.

Improvement in overall care is contingent upon a well-informed, communicative pharmacist. Therefore, aim for patient education and the provision of valuable resources! Being that patients visit their pharmacies frequently; pharmacists may be the first healthcare providers who recognize mental illness through simple observation. Greater familiarity and comfort with available mental-health resources may help alleviate some of the barriers that community pharmacists experience concerning mental health pharmacy practice.

Remember that you need not be certified in “Mental Health First Aid”, nor a pharmacist to give the gifts of support and kindness. As Dr. Carmela Avena-Woods, BS Pharm, PharmD, BCGP, Associate Clinical Professor, St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences once said, “No matter how strong a person is, there come times in life where you need to stop, regroup, or need the supporting hand, ear, mind, or heart of another.”


  1. Mental Health First Aid Staff. Mental Health First AID USA. 1st ed. (Revised). Washington DC, USA: National Council for Behavioral Health; 2015.
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