Spokane high school, WSU students partner to address the stigma of mental health

WSU student pharmacists posed with Associate Dean for Professional Education Jennifer Robinson and AACP Representatives

Within the past three years, there have been a total of 13 suicides in the Spokane School District.

A team of student pharmacists from Washington State University partnered with North Central High School’s Institute of Science and Technology in Spokane to address a community-based health care issue. The students at North Central selected the topic of mental health awareness. The school has experienced three teen suicides since April 2017. The students wanted to use this initiative to prevent another one from happening.

“This program allowed the high school students to directly make an impact among their peers and experience how they can individually make a difference within their community,” Mark Nguyen from WSU said.

WSU submitted the project to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Pharm4Me Innovation Challenge this last April. The WSU-North Central collaboration placed second in the nation.

WSU student pharmacists Nguyen, Thomas Maslo, Mindy Lee, Taylor Birkland, Natty Tran, and Katherine Dier worked with a group of seven high school students twice a week over the span of six months to develop an approach to address the negative stigma towards mental health within the North Central community. They focused on education, fostering acceptance, and building awareness within the high school population with the goal of increasing the outlook of a welcoming future.

“Pharmacists are a good fit to participate in a program like this because they are arguably one of the most accessible health care providers in the community,” Nguyen said. “Pharmacists have the opportunity to maximize patient outcomes due to their consistent physical presence and ability to take advantage of frequent patient interaction.”

The WSU team’s innovative approach incorporated engagement and collaboration in order to prevent the disconnect that can happen in a traditional lecture-style educational format. WSU student pharmacists guided the high school students as they researched and discussed the topic together. They collaborated on outreach activities that included informational sessions and invited presentations, a presence at a WSU-hosted health fair and a NCHS-hosted mental health symposium this spring where the high school student team presented a series on mental health awareness that was featured on the KHQ Local News and Facebook. A video of their work is available on YouTube: https://youtu.be/bw0EGAXw76g.

“The high school students were empowered to teach and foster an open dialog on mental health with their colleagues,” Nguyen said.

The Pharm4Me Innovation Challenge was initiated by the AACP to help raise awareness of careers in pharmacy by giving high school students an opportunity to participate in innovative community-based solutions that also demonstrate a pharmacist’s role as a health care provider.

The high school received a cash prize of $500 to support STEM programs, a plaque for the school and certificates to each high school team member. The WSU CPPS received a plaque for the school and certificate to each student pharmacist along with an invitation to attend the 2018 AACP Annual Meeting in Boston this last July.