Canadian Pharmacists Association
Canadian Pharmacists Association

Supporting mental health in pharmacy: CPhA's promise to students

Suzanne Hamzawi Headshot

Sadaf Faisal, PhD, BCGP, BPharm, RPh
Director, Professional Affairs, CPhA

Hi pharmacy students! In case we haven’t met yet, my name is Sadaf Faisal and I’m CPhA’s director of professional affairs. Mental health…taking care of your mental health…is a hot topic these days. And for good reason. Health-care professionals—and I include pharmacy students in that title—truly stepped up during the pandemic, and it is no secret that many of us are still struggling with the weight of the responsibility we have carried over the past several years.

As an educator at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, I have a deep appreciation for the voices and ideas of pharmacy students. So much of the work that I do here at CPhA is carried by the knowledge that in this role, I’m helping to build a bright and meaningful profession for and with you. I'd like to acknowledge the struggles that I know many of you are experiencing, to share some of my own personal experiences, and to tell you about some of CPhA’s efforts to ease the post-pandemic mental health crisis and secure a bright profession for the future.

What you’ve told us

Health-care professionals are often told “You can’t take care of other people if you aren’t taking care of yourself,” but taking care of yourself is sometimes easier said than done. Canadians have come to rely on their pharmacists more than ever, and while we know that pharmacists are embracing their important role and these relationships, we also know that their unwavering commitment to their patients can sometimes outweigh their own needs.

In 20221 and 20232 CPhA conducted 2 national surveys measuring the mental health and well-being of the profession, surveying thousands of pharmacists, pharmacy students and pharmacy technicians across the country. We were alarmed, though not surprised, with the results. From the 2022 survey, for example, we learned that pharmacy professionals were experiencing burnout at higher levels than the average Canadian worker, with only 1 in 5 reporting having good or very good mental health. Notably, pharmacy technicians and students expressed less optimism about their mental well-being compared with experienced pharmacists.

While survey results from just 1 year later did offer some positivity, with 37% of respondents rating their mental health and well-being as good or very good (a 15-point increase over 2022 results), 79% of pharmacy professionals, including students, remained at risk of burnout. Results from a similar survey3 conducted in February 2022 by CAPSI were remarkably similar to ours. On average, CAPSI survey respondents rated their mental health as a 2.475/5, with nearly half (49%) ranking it at 2/5 or worse. The fact that students are experiencing the same level of burnout as their working counterparts before they even fully enter the profession is a true cause for concern and has emphasized the importance of enhancing efforts in this space.

Survey results

CPhA's response: The Pharmacy Workforce Wellness initiative

CPhA responded by launching the Pharmacy Workforce Wellness initiative with a goal of understanding why stress and burnout are happening and to develop sustainable solutions. We set up the Pharmacy Workforce Steering Committee, which includes various pharmacy community members, to focus on planning, job satisfaction, and student/professional support. And we formed the Pharmacy Wellness Task Force, a mix of dedicated professionals and students to work on strategies to foster a pharmacy community that prioritizes well-being. All of this work is ongoing and feeds into our commitment to continue to address the mental health and well-being of our workforce.

Supporting students and professionals: The Wellness Toolkit

We also recognize that change doesn’t happen overnight, and you need support and resources now…meet the Wellness Toolkit. This collection of resources began as a carefully curated selection of resources from the Canadian Health Workforce Health Worker Burnout Toolkit and has since grown to include printable no-tolerance posters and a mental health resource round up, all aimed at supporting both pharmacy professionals and students as they manage their mental health and wellness. We’re continuing to build this toolkit, and we encourage you to reach out to us at anytime if there are tools, information or resources that you’d find especially valuable.

From both the CPhA and CAPSI survey results, we know that even in places where mental health resources exist, those who need those resources often don’t know that they exist or where to find them. We hope that you’ll take the time to seek some tools that could help you (both CPhA’s website and CAPSI’s have options for you) and reach out to trusted friends and colleagues before you are in crisis.

How I manage my mental health

I want to share a few things that I do personally to manage my own mental health, and I want you to know that no matter what you’re going through and how you’re feeling, you are not alone. Personally, I find that managing my mental health is a constant challenge, especially when my days are a whirlwind of responsibilities. I wear multiple hats, working full time as CPhA's director of professional affairs while balancing the roles of a mother, wife and daughter. It's no easy feat, but I've discovered a few self-care strategies that keep me grounded and mentally well.

  • Scheduled breaks: I've committed to scheduling short breaks throughout my workday, taking 5-minute pauses every hour and blocking off 15 minutes every 3 hours on days with back-to-back meetings.
  • Stretching routine: During breaks, I make it a point to stand up and stretch, doing simple movements like reaching up, gentle torso twists and shoulder rolls. (Here’s an example you could try.) If time and weather allow, I step outside for a brief walk around my neighborhood for some fresh air and a change of scenery.
  • Lunchtime relaxation: At lunch, I prioritize meditation and relaxation, especially through guided imagery, creating a mental haven of calm amidst a busy day. I often use guided imagery videos on YouTube for this purpose. (This is one of my favourites.)
  • Pomodoro technique: During intense work phases, like when I was tackling my PhD thesis, I've found the pomodoro technique to be a lifesaver. Working for focused 30-minute intervals and taking 5-minute breaks afterward, then rewarding myself with a longer break after 4 cycles keeps me on track and refreshed. (Here is a short video about it and a Free Interval Timer to try out.)

These strategies have become my go-to in managing the chaos of daily life, helping me stay composed and calm amidst numerous tasks and making my mental well-being a priority.

What’s next?

The current pharmacy environment must evolve. CPhA is dedicated to addressing the mental health and well-being challenges facing pharmacy professionals and building a bright future for and with the pharmacy professionals of tomorrow. Our commitment to pharmacy students and professionals alike is that we will continue to focus efforts on mental health and well-being by actively advancing workforce planning, offering wellness initiatives, and advocacating against abuse and harassment, with an ultimate goal of creating a healthier, more supportive environment across the entire profession. We know that the path ahead is challenging, but we are confident that positive change is on the horizon.

Get involved

As the future of our profession, you are so valued in our work and our initiatives and your voice is important. Let's continue this journey together, supporting each other along the way. If you’re interested in getting more involved in the work that we are doing, please take a look at some of the ways you can engage with us. Or connect directly with Christine Dalgleish, manager of member engagement and communications, and share your thoughts, experiences and vision for the profession you want and your ideas on how to get there. Together, we can pave the way for a brighter, healthier future in pharmacy. Stay strong, stay supported and never hesitate to prioritize your mental health.

Take good care,


What does the evidence say?

As a future pharmacist, you probably want to see some evidence of what actually works to help manage stress, depression and anxiety for yourself and your patients. Here is a small sample of just some of the information you'll find in CPS:

From the Depression chapter:

There is evidence for the benefit of regular physical exercise and yoga as monotherapy in mild to moderate depression and as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy and/or psychotherapy in moderate to severe depression. Although there are few well-controlled studies of diet modification in the treatment of depression, a proof-of-concept RCT demonstrated feasibility of and positive outcomes for a dietary intervention that mainly reduced refined and processed foods while increasing healthier options (e.g., fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts/seeds, olive oil).

From the Anxiety Disorders chapter:

  • Stress-reduction techniques, which include relaxation and time-management training, are often helpful.
  • Aerobic exercise several times per week may help to reduce some anxiety symptoms, although CBT remains significantly more effective.
  • Caffeine or other stimulant use should be reduced and controlled.
  • Alcohol use should be minimal; more importantly, it should not be used to control anxiety. Alcohol induces sleep, but acts negatively on its quality and duration, especially by reducing deep sleep. Stopping or abruptly reducing excessive or chronic alcohol consumption may cause increased anxiety.
  • A balanced lifestyle and healthy sleep hygiene are critical.

Did you know? All pharmacy schools in Canada have a subscription to CPS. If you haven’t already, find out from your faculty how to log in to Canada’s most trusted drug and therapeutic resource.


Everyone has their own methods of taking care of themselves. Here are a few ways that some of our team members protect their own mental health and some tips that you can try for yourself.

Tammy Quinn Headshot

Tammy Quinn, BSc(Pharm) | Clinical Editor

  • I started running regularly at the start of the pandemic. It has been life-saving in so many ways. You never feel worse after a run.
  • I set limits for social media apps on my phone. It helps me use these tools consciously and avoid "going down the rabbit hole."
  • I eat a plant-based diet and try to focus on whole foods with minimal processed foods.
  • I have a lot of pets; they force me to be in the present and keep me busy and laughing.
  • I consciously plan social activities with family and friends to foster a sense of connection and community.


Suzanne Hamzawi Headshot

Suzanne Hamzawi, BSc(Pharm), PharmD, RPh | Clinical Editor

  • You are your own best advocate. Let others know when you are overwhelmed or need help. You will be surprised at how many people will respond to the call.
  • Don’t look at the mountain ahead of you—take it one step at a time. You will reach your goal!
  • Remember to treat yourself. Reward yourself for your accomplishments!


Bethany Sundstrom Headshot

Bethany Sundstrom | Pharmacy Coop Student

  • I use the BEST check-in—Body, Emotions, Spirit (optional) and Thoughts—twice daily for mental health check-ins. It ensures nothing piles up, keeping my mind clear for better sleep.
  • Taking time off to hang out with friends, my spouse or even just for some personal downtime—watching a show, playing games or knitting—has been a lifesaver in keeping me sane.
  • I take at least 30 minutes daily for physical activity—be it walks, runs, or yoga—to boost my focus, give myself a school break and improve my sleep.
  • On the topic of stress and school pressure, developing coping strategies with expert help, is invaluable. Most universities, including mine, offer free counselling, and our School of Pharmacy has a dedicated counsellor—I bet other programs have similar resources.

What are some of your favourite resources, apps, tips and tricks for managing your mental health and well-being? Let us know so that we can share your suggestions with others!

1Canadian Pharmacy Mental Health and Workforce Wellness Survey, Canadian Pharmacists Association, January 2022

2Canadian Pharmacy Mental Health and Workforce Wellness Survey, Canadian Pharmacists Association, February 2023

3Student Mental Health & Wellness Survey National Report, Canadian Association of Pharmacy Students and Interns, October 2022