Mental health claims remain elevated

07 December 2022 | News
Mental health claims remain elevated

Claims for mental health related absences remain elevated, according to Dentists’ Provident.

Nearly three years since the COVID pandemic began, pressure on the dental profession is still as high as ever.

Earlier this year, the General Dental Council (GDC) published new research showing profound challenges for both professionals and patients1. The report, ‘Impact of COVID-19 on dental professionals’ put together by Pye Tait Consulting on behalf of the GDC, surveyed more than 2,000 dental and dental care professionals in the UK. The results showed that post-pandemic, mental health and wellbeing is now a key driver in decision making about jobs or roles2.

Yet in an overstretched system, the profession is doing an incredible job. On releasing the research, the GDC noted ‘there were some signs of resilience across dentistry’, ‘with professionals remaining confident in their ability to operate safely and fewer patients reporting they had coronavirus concerns that would affect their decision to visit the dentist’3.

Mental health claims in 2022

Statistics from income protection provider Dentists’ Provident show that claims for mental health disorders remain elevated.

So far in 2022, Dentists’ Provident has paid out around £600,000 to dental professionals, who have been unable to work due to mental health issues, including conditions such as stress and anxiety. A significant number of these claims have been due to workplace related stress.

“Psychiatric disorders have been one of the most significant areas of claims in recent years and the figures for 2022 are no different. The profession has done a brilliant job in exceptionally challenging circumstances” says Paul Roberts, Head of Claims at Dentists’ Provident.

Profession reaching out for help

While the GDC research published in June continues to show a higher level of anxiety among dental professionals than the average UK anxiety scores2, the research shows some indicators of professionals reaching out for support and following guidance.

Respondents were asked about the kinds of help they had received from any source in the last 12 months in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. One in five (20%) of respondents said they had people get in touch to check they were okay. Of those who cited other kind of help for stress or depression, just under three-fifths (58%) said this help had been provided by family and friends, while nearly a third (30%) noted this had been provided by work colleagues2.

“Dental professionals continue to rise to the extraordinary challenges posed by the pandemic”, said GDC Executive Director, Strategy, Stefan Czerniawski. Adding that “challenges will require attention and effort from everyone right across dentistry”1

Continue work on prevention and cooperation

In 2020 the British Dental Association (BDA) announced their work to help develop effective prevention strategies alongside properly signposted, integrated services to support dentists' wellbeing and mental health.

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.”4

BDA Principal Executive Committee representative Dr Lauren Harrhy, set up a closed Facebook group called ‘Mental Dental’, a support tool for dentists struggling with their mental health, which is proving a popular forum and today has over 6,000 members.

Next generation

It’s hugely important that the next generation of dental professionals benefit from the renewed focus on support and resilience to improve and maintain wellbeing in a profession under pressure.

In 2021, the BDA Benevolent Fund commissioned a piece of research into the financial and wellbeing needs of dental students. The results published in March 2022 showed high proportions of students saying they experienced certain wellbeing challenges, most notably stress or burnout (90%) and performance anxiety (77%). However, only 33% of students had accessed some support for their wellbeing5.

The BDA Benevolent Fund, a charity supporting dental students, dentists and their dependents, has since made a range of wellbeing support available to help build resilience for professionals and their families. This includes a self-care resource called ‘Wellbeing Support for Dental Teams’ which an expert panel has put together and can be used by all those in the dental profession. It includes practical tips and self-care strategies as well as sources of professional support6.

Reaching out to others

The momentum is there to continue to raise awareness of mental health on the back of the pandemic, better understanding the challenges the dental profession faces, and start looking at changes that are urgently needed to create a better working environment for the future.

"The bottom line is you don't need to be an expert, but what you do need to be is a concerned person who considers their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others. For example, rather than thinking that someone has seemed a bit off today, the single most important thing you can do is to express concern; ask them if they are OK, and really mean it. You might be the first person they are willing to open up to. You can then tell them about support services such as the Dentists' Health Support Trust or the BDA Benevolent Fund website, which will guide you on the next steps," said Rory O’Connor from the Dentists' Health Support Trust (DHST) in an interview earlier this year7.

The Dentists' Health Support Trust (DHST) ensures that dental professionals do not have to face these challenges on their own and has been providing advice, assessments and co-ordinating treatment for more than 2,000 practitioners since 2008.

Working together for the profession

While everyone has individual responsibilities, there are lots of different factors that need to work collaboratively to enhance wellbeing for dental professionals.

It is more important than ever for the industry that those in positions of leadership work together to provide training opportunities on resilience and coping strategies, alongside a need for multi-level action to address system weaknesses.


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