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Are dentists suffering in silence?

Blog Author Sian Hammersley

Blog Date 13/04/2021

Are dentists having trouble asking for help with their mental health? This Stress Awareness Month, we're looking at the take up of our 24/7 counselling and mental health support services.


During these difficult times, high quality, timely support to maintain mental wellbeing is needed more than ever. We are proud to provide BDA members with free access to Health Assured, a confidential assistance programme. However, it's concerning that we have seen a lower than expected uptake by dentists, in comparison to other healthcare professionals, prompting us to ask, are dentists suffering in silence?


We expected a big surge in requests for support during the first lockdown, but this was slow to materialise. It wasn't until June 2020 that we suddenly saw call volumes increase by 1,200%, and they then peaked again in the typically gloomy winter months. During this time, members used the counselling service for support and guidance for an array of reasons, the most common of which being anxiety, employment issues and work-related stress, low mood and bereavement.


Why are more dentists not accessing support?

“Only 1% of members accessed Health Assured support. This is markedly lower than other health professionals.”

Despite the fact that all BDA members have access to our services, a relatively low number reach out. In fact, between March 2020 and March 2021, only 1% of members accessed Health Assured support. This is markedly lower than other health professionals. GPs for instance, typically have a utilisation rate of 5%. This is five times higher than dentists, which I hope indicates that dentists are accessing other services, rather than suffering in silence.


Of those who did access support, it's also important to note that the majority were between 30-39 years old and 70% were women. Sadly, this is in keeping with the impact of a wider perceived stigma surrounding men seeking support for their mental health. It is particularly concerning because of the higher risk of suicide among older men. This may also be reflective of a tendency to adopt a "just get on with it" attitude amongst older healthcare professionals. Bottling issues up like this can lead to bigger problems down the line.


We are reassured by the fact that of the members who did access counselling over the past year, half were able to return to work following the completion of their course of treatment. Furthermore, BDA members rated our support as 'exceptional'. This shows what an essential and useful tool these services can be.


Investing now can help you avoid issues later

Early investment in our wellbeing, rather than waiting for something to become a problem, is known to help prevent future struggles with mental health. But what is the difference between 'mental health' and 'wellbeing'? These terms can seem woolly and are often used interchangeably, but actually mean quite different things.

“Going for a walk, while helpful for your wellbeing, won't 'cure' severe anxiety or depression.”


Wellbeing is the act of looking after yourself. This could include paying attention to your mood, diet, exercise and social relationships. Seemingly small things such as taking a walk, reading a book, or spending quality time with family and friends can constitute acts of wellbeing. We have a wellbeing app that aims to help track your mood and provide support with your wellbeing.


Mental health meanwhile refers to a person's longer-term emotional state and resilience, which can be tested and put under strain during difficult times. Going for a walk, while helpful for your wellbeing, won't 'cure' severe anxiety or depression. Mental health problems can be very serious and if they go untreated they can have tragic results.


That's why we provide short-term, solution-focused counselling to support members with the emotional challenges they're facing. This will not be appropriate or adequate for all issues, but no one will be turned away. Where necessary, we may direct members to other, longer-term services. Our support can also be used as a stopgap for those dealing with long NHS waiting lists for psychological support.  


Your mental health and wellbeing matters

During moments of peak crisis and change, it can be difficult to find the mental space to focus on your emotions and wellbeing. We know that over the past year dental professionals have been under unprecedented levels of stress, strain and uncertainty. Managing patients' expectations alongside personal concerns and financial worries have added to the strain, which many were already under before the pandemic.


It was months after the first lockdown before we saw a significant rise in calls to our services. This shows us that people look for support after they've had time and space to reflect. So as restrictions begin to lift again, even though many challenges remain, we encourage dentists to consider the range of support provided and reach out. Investing in your wellbeing now can help you avoid real problems in the future. Please do not suffer in silence.


Sian Hammersley

Health Assured