June 9, 2021
by Beau Peters
Most people don’t realize that the dental profession is one of the most at-risk for mental health disorders. These include depression, anxiety, and negative effects of stress. Mental health in dentistry can often be considered a taboo subject, but it has been ignored for too long.
To understand the serious nature of this problem, you only have to look at the prevalence of suicide and depression among Canadian dentists. The Journal of the Canadian Dental Association labeled this issue as dysthymia, which features some of the most common symptoms of depression – loss of appetite, guilt, fatigue, and social withdrawal.
It’s crucial to bring mental health to light in the dental industry. Although you work in healthcare, it doesn’t mean you’re any less susceptible to these issues and the damage they can cause. Let’s look at some of the possible underlying factors, and how you as a dentistry professional can manage your mental health.
The cause of these mental health issues can stem from a variety of things. Many dentists work long hours and can get burnt out easily. There is a lot of pressure on the job to do things perfectly. Plus, you might not always have the most pleasant patients to deal with.
Women and minority groups can face even greater challenges and bigger stressors. It’s not uncommon for women to experience microaggressions in the workplace, and female dentists (who are in the minority within the industry), are no exception to this rule. Microaggressions might include things like:
If you’re experiencing any of these issues in your workplace, talking to your HR team is the best solution. In the meantime, hearing and experiencing those things every day can contribute to a lot of extra stress. You might even start to question your skills, which can affect your self-esteem and trigger feelings of anxiety.
Once you have a better understanding of what might be causing you to feel stressed, depressed, or anxious, you can work on managing your mental health more effectively. But how do you do that?
Let’s say a typical day at work includes various time pressures, economic pressures, isolation, and confinement. That doesn’t exactly sound like a pleasant day at the office, does it?
For dental professionals, that’s often the norm even when you don’t realize it. Those in the industry have to deal with so much pressure every day, and they have to do a lot of it on their own. You might even have to deal with patient anxiety. If you have a patient who is extremely fearful and anxious, suggesting things like rescheduling or offering general health and wellness tips can help. But your own anxieties might be triggered in the process.
Managing your stress every day is crucial to getting through some of the things listed above. Thankfully, there are several things you can do to reduce your stress levels every day, including:
Things like mindfulness and meditation can also help you throughout the day. Practicing mindfulness allows you to focus on your breathing and the present moment. Doing so can cause you to let go of past “regrets” and worries about the future. Even a few minutes can lower your stress significantly so you can continue with your day.
Lowering stress is all about finding something that works for you. Don’t be afraid to try a few different things and make self-care a priority so you don’t burn out.
Doctors and dentists aren’t immune to mental health conditions. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped a stigma from surrounding the healthcare industry. It’s one of the reasons many dental professionals don’t get the help they need.
If you truly want to break the stigma of mental health issues in dentistry, be brave enough to get the help you need. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions in the world. So, you’re certainly not alone in needing help. If you’re comfortable with a therapist, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the most popular for treating depression and anxiety. You might also consider joining a support group, either online or in person.
It’s also okay to talk to your peers about your struggles. They might be going through similar issues but are too “afraid” to talk about it.
If you choose to keep ignoring the way you feel, your mental health issues might start to affect your work. If your mental health becomes debilitating, you may be able to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance. This provides you with compensation if your disorder makes it impossible, or nearly so, to work. It’s better to take whatever form of compensation you can get than to take a risk when working on a patient.
The sooner the stigma of mental health in dentistry is dropped, the more likely it is that dental professionals will get the help they need. The alarming statistics shared earlier can start to fall, and the dental industry can be an open and healthy place for mental wellbeing, not just oral care.
About the Author
Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work. When he is not writing, he enjoys reading and trying new things.