Coordinator of the Dentists’ Health Support Programme, Rory O’Connor, on the mental health challenges dentists may face in this new normal.
It might seem counterintuitive, but requests for emotional support fell during lockdown, even though many dentists were under unprecedented pressure. At the Dentists’ Health Support Programme (DHSP), we saw many dental professionals minimising the significance of their own problems during lockdown and drawing on a sense of “we’re all in this together” for resilience.
Now the number of calls for support has shot back up. Many are struggling with anxiety over returning to work, and are worried about keeping their families and patients safe. Others are grieving or facing financial uncertainty. For some, lockdown has worsened pre-existing problems, such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse issues.
Would you know if you needed help?
As a qualified psychiatric nurse who has been in the field for 39 years, I’m concerned about the mental health challenges dentists are facing. To safeguard your mental health, it’s essential to exercise empathy and maintain your professionalism during this crisis. I advise you to ask yourself whether you showing these signs of struggling to manage stress:
1. Are you finding empathy difficult?
2. Are you struggling to act professionally online?
We need to be particularly careful what information we consume and how we use social media right now. Dental Facebook and Twitter can be a useful way of connecting with colleagues and sourcing information. But it can also be rife with misinformation and vitriol. I worry that justifiable frustration (over delays in guidance for instance) has led some dentists to act unprofessionally online during this period.
"Stop and think before posting-in-anger or bandwagon jumping on social media."
It’s important to stop and think before posting-in-anger or bandwagon jumping on social media. It achieves very little and can erode healthier coping mechanisms. It can also lead to bullying accusations. Remember, there’s always another human being on the receiving end and during this pandemic it’s often been someone working very hard in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
Try to be mindful of the stress that you’re under and make conscious decisions about tackling it. Reach out and ask for support if you need it. Dentists’ Health Support Programme and others are here for you. Our confidential helpline is available on 020 7224 4671. We can provide a listening ear, some guidance on how to tackle certain issues and if needed, we can refer you for therapy.
Is there a burgeoning mental health crisis?
We know that the COVID-19 pandemic is the single biggest challenge to ever face dentistry in the UK and we are expecting to see further increases in calls and requests for support over the next few months. However, it may be a long time before we see the real mental health impacts of this pandemic.
The Centre for Mental Health’s recent report on COVID-19 and mental health, warns that a second wave of COVID-19 cases combined with seasonal flu, the end of the furlough scheme and an economic recession could have a major knock-on effect on mental health this winter. This follows their first forecast, which indicated that about half a million more people will experience a mental health difficulty over the next year as a result of the pandemic.
"If you're struggling, please do look into what resources are available to you."
We are hoping that this proves to be an over-estimation, but we are planning to support more people than ever in case it is not. These are difficult times and if you’re struggling, please do look into what resources are available to you. NHS dentists in England can contact email@example.com and BDA members can get support through Health Assured. And any dentist in the UK that needs emotional support, can reach out to us at DHSP. We’ll do our very best to support you.
Rory O’Connor, MSc Addictions, BA Psychology
Coordinator of the Dentists’ Health Support Programme,
Clinical Advisor for the Practitioner Health Programme (London)