It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15 May) – an annual awareness campaign that this year shines light on loneliness and its impact on the UK’s mental health.
The pandemic has put mental health on the agenda in a huge way for all professions, including dentistry. Even before the pandemic, a British Dental Association (BDA) research paper (2017) investigated self-reported levels of mental health complaints compared with job satisfaction. It cited a study which showed that lack of self-esteem, loneliness and depression increased the negative effects on dentists’ job satisfaction. According to the research, a majority of dentists think dentistry is difficult work mentally, with 55.4% citing loneliness as a mental health complaint.
A more recent article in the British Dental Journal (2019), looked at key determinants of health and wellbeing of dentists in the UK. It referred to the association of health and wellbeing of dentists with a wide range of factors: personal, professional career, relationships, job specification, workplace and systems. As well as noting ‘emerging evidence suggesting additional concerns about the regulation of dentistry’ and ‘workplace characteristics were most often explored among researchers and reported as being a key issue’.
Claims figures from Dentists’ Provident show 16% of all claims last year were for mental health issues, including conditions such as stress and anxiety. The recently published ‘2021 claims statistics’ report from Dentists’ Provident shows over a fifth of claims (22%) by men and 10% by women were for psychiatric illness.
“In 2021 we have seen a greater prevalence of workplace related stress claims, with nearly half (40%) of psychiatric illness claims being workplace related. Many have listed the increased work demands and pressures they have faced since the pandemic as a key factor underlying their incapacity,” says Paul Roberts, Head of Claims at Dentists’ Provident.
As a specialist income protection provider, Dentists’ Provident works with a team of specialist rehabilitation clinicians to support dental professionals claiming for these conditions, including, Tony Helliwell, who is a qualified mental health nurse and has worked with dental professionals for more than 20 years.
“The last couple of years since the COVID pandemic began have notably impacted everyone, especially on the medical side. Many dentists I see have struggled ‘getting back on track’ since their practices went into lockdown. Their environment isn’t only influenced by their own increased anxiety, but also by their patients returning to a ‘new normal’. I work with claimants on a one to one basis to support them and ensure they are on the right treatment path to support their recovery,” says Tony Helliwell from THINCS insurance consultancy.
Mental Health Awareness Week led by the Mental Health Foundation is just one campaign, raising an opportunity for the whole of the UK to focus on achieving good mental health.
The BDA announced in 2020 their work to lead on solutions to support dentists' wellbeing and mental health seeking to develop effective prevention strategies, alongside properly signposted, integrated services.
At the time, BDA President Roz McMullen said: “Our focus is on prevention – we've helped secure support for dentists, but very little is joined up. Too many dentists don't seem to be aware of what help they can access or have the knowledge to spot the tell-tale signs of stress in themselves, their colleagues and their patients.
We want to ensure skilled and experienced clinicians have a sustainable career path, and that we nurture the talent of the next generation of dentists and support them to stay in the service. This event is our next step in achieving that goal. We will continue to make the case to ensure our workforce is safeguarded.”
BDA Principal Executive Committee representative Dr Lauren Harrhy, set up a closed Facebook group called ‘Mental Dental’, a support for dentists struggling with their mental health, which is also proving a popular forum and today has over 6,000 members.
A list of useful mental health and wellbeing resources has also recently been published ahead of the Dentistry Show Birmingham later this month.
To find out more about the Mental Health Awareness Week campaign, including resources on how to get involved, visit: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week
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