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Jayanth Shekhar (left)
CPNP Student Chapter President, MCPHS University, Boston

Richard J. Silvia, PharmD, BCPP (right)
Associate Professor of Pharmacy Practice, MCPHS University, Boston
CPNP Student Committee Member

During the spring semester of 2016, the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists Student Chapter at MCPHS University in Boston hosted an In Our Own Voice event in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). In pharmacy school, students are taught in extreme detail about the science behind disease states and the medications that are used to treat them. One significant shortcoming of this education is the lack of emotion linked to a clinician treating an actual patient, as schools educate the student to mainly treat the disease state. This thought process was the major factor in the planning of this event with NAMI, bringing patients that are interested in speaking about their mental illness to the public.

This event was advertised across campus as an educational experience opportunity for students who wanted to learn and get to know the patient behind the mental illness, in an attempt to stop the stigma involving mental illnesses today. Two speakers from NAMI discussed their mental illness. Both suffered from Bipolar Disorder with one of them having suffered predominantly from Major Depressive episodes. These two speakers talked about their experiences with the hopes of debunking the myths involving their illness, and to allow the students to perceive these illnesses in a new light.

Nearly 70 students attended the event, including students from PY1 to PY4 years. Students were asked to submit a short reflection about their experience after the event, describing the impact it had on them. Some of the comments they provided included:

“Going to this event and hearing these two speakers share their story about the role mental illness played in shaping their lives was eye opening in a way that a textbook definition can never be… This event also helped me realize just how important it is to lend support and better care to patients who suffer from mental illness.”

“I think it is important to advocate that mental illness does not have to be a death sentence. With the right help, willingness, and patience, anyone with mental illness can improve their quality of life.”

“Being able to hear first-hand what it is like to live with mental illness helped me to gain a better understanding not only of patients that I will someday work with, but also friends and family that suffer from mental illness.”

“Prior to pharmacy school, I didn’t understand mental illness, and to be completely honest I just believed the stigma that went along with it. It is so important that everyone be educated on these conditions, because once society can accept it, the whole stigma will change.”

“One of the most important things I took out of the presentation was that their illness doesn’t define who they are, and that they are a human being. It is important that as health care professionals we realize this.”

One of the CPNP chapter officers who planned the event shared, “There were still some of my friends who were surprised that the speakers were so ‘normal.’ That just reinforced why we wanted to hold this event as a means to educate other students so that eventually, maybe as a society, we won’t have negative associations with mental illness and then after that hopefully no one will feel awkward asking for help.”

Due to the outstanding feedback received by the students in attendance, CPNP at MCPHS University will continue to invite speakers from NAMI to present in the future, to reach out to many more students, recruit more students to join CPNP, and hopefully give student pharmacists an insight into patients who are suffering from a mental illness.

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