Amanda Wheeler

Pharmacy Practice Ambassador

Q: What are your goals for Equally Well? What inspires you about Equally Well?

A: An inspiring feature of Equally Well is the ‘front and centre’ person-centred approach which permeates the organisation’s philosophy and activities. This focus helps to ensure – in practical and measurable ways – that the nature of interpersonal communications and interactions is enabling and facilitatory. This explicit focus can also provide a contextual basis to inform research projects and associated agendas. Equally Well embraces a vision which is forward looking and informed by creative and inclusive thinking ‘outside the box’; plotting new ways to tackle intransigent problems and creating a legacy of good inspires me!   

Q: How do you see Equally Well benefiting carers/consumers/practitioners?

A: An approach such as that championed by Equally Well, which values both synergy and divergent viewpoints as guiding principles, has real potential to challenge the status quo and effect positive and enduring change. I believe our diversity and combined energies can make a genuine and sustainable difference to reducing comorbidities and ‘closing the gap’ in life expectancy for people living with mental illness(es). As a pharmacist, I am passionate about the intelligent, safe, and efficient use of medicines, particularly for users of mental health services who are frequently also users of other health-related facilities.  

Q: What hurdles do you currently see Equally Well facing and will have to face in the future? Is there a particular area you believe needs more focus that EW can develop on?

A: Over the last two years, the pandemic has caused many hurdles to people accessing healthcare – including routine appointments and preventive screening and monitoring. This has been especially difficult for people experiencing mental illness because of the additional challenges many have encountered, including reduced/no access to face-to-face support, infrequent/unpredictable contact with trusted care providers, and long periods of (COVID-19 related) isolation, all of which have increased vulnerabilities and negatively impacted physical health. I hope to see Equally Well making a material difference in shifting public perceptions away from conceptualising people living with mental illness(es) in ways that demonise, stigmatise and dehumanise.

Q: What have you personally learnt and has this knowledge impacted your life and/or the lives of those around you?

A: My early career provided me an opportunity to work as a pharmacist in a ‘closed’ hospital environment, with people who had lived there for many years but were in the process of transitioning to new ways of living in community settings. This change was accompanied by a more individualised focus, taking account of the person’s social and emotional needs rather than the previous (exclusive) emphasis on their mental illness(s). Experiencing different ways of working, and observing the relationship between environmental factors and well-being, was a turning point in my career; it radically altered my approach to mental health care provision. 

Q: As an Equally Well Ambassador, you are an advocate for improving the physical health of people living with a mental illness, since the symposium, have there been any new developments or research in your field?

A: Over the last two years I have led an Australian, government-funded, project investigating the effectiveness of a person-centred, goal-oriented, and flexible support service provided by community pharmacists. The PharMIbridge RCT (Bridging the Gap between Physical and Mental Illness in Community Pharmacy) aims to enhance the way community pharmacists support people living with severe and persistent mental illness. As front-line health professionals, pharmacists are well positioned to assist with improving mental and physical health outcomes, helping to resolve medication-related problems, including medication adherence, and signposting consumers to other relevant health professionals and services. We hope the PharMIbridge research findings (expected in 2023) will lead to improvements in overall health outcomes for people living with severe and persistent mental illness.

Q: What do you see is your role for Equally Well as one of our ambassadors?

A: I am passionate about disseminating research findings, making these accessible to those who can most benefit – whether they be consumers and carers, policy makers and politicians, academics, or the interested taxpaying public (who have often funded the research).  Ensuring a good ‘fit’ with respect to delivering information in audience-appropriate formats helps to ‘mainstream’ evidence and attract the desired response. Importantly, it also supports pharmacy and other healthcare students and junior staff to recognise the value of mental health research and perhaps to pursue careers in this important field.