Dental Business Coach and Patient Experience and Complaints Manager, Michael Bentley talks to Regional Support Manager, Deborah Bell, about the importance of looking after a practice team’s welfare and shares what he’s learned from completing a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA) course.
DB: You’ve been in dentistry for around 20 years now, Michael would you agree that team welfare has gained more importance over that time.
MB: Absolutely! I think it’s really, really important to look after the welfare of the team. Checking how people are feeling, and not just how their week has been at work, but also how they are at home, is so important to getting the best out of people. But it’s also looking after them in the right way. I feel very strongly as an industry that we should be doing it.
DB: You’ve recently been on a Mental Health First Aider Course. What did that involve and how would you say it has helped you?
MB: I’ve always wanted to do it. Although it’s quite a commitment because it’s not just a couple of hours course. There are four days of online presentations and then there is a lot of reading to go with it. The Mental Health First Aid text book is quite a size and you’re expected to do reading to prepare for every session. There’s lots of home study to be done, too. And then, there are reflective questions to be answered. So, your knowledge of very different areas is tested, too.
I have struggled with my mental health in my past, as well, so it was good for me to be able to learn more about looking after your mental health. The course goes through everything from suicide to psychosis, to people with depression and difficult anxiety. It has been absolutely eye-opening to me. I think that like a lot of people, I can say, “Oh, I’m good with people.” I can do the “Let’s have a chat. Tell me what’s happening, what’s going on.” But I think what I learnt from this course is the right language to use.
For someone experiencing suicidal thoughts, for an example, I learnt that directed questioning is absolutely the right thing to do. Asking questions such as “when are you planning to carry out your suicide?” “Have you got a timeline for that?” “Have you got the means to take your life?” Previously, I might have said, “Oh, don’t be silly. You’ve got a lot to live for,” and similar things. I now know they’re a no-no, and not helpful things to say in those circumstances.
It’s also helped me to recognise indicators that someone might be struggling. The things to look out for that maybe you might ignore in practice because you didn’t know what you were looking for. It’s that old thing of sometimes, if you’re not told something, you can’t see it. After it has been pointed out you might think, “Well, it was obvious, wasn’t it?” But previously you didn’t see it because you weren’t looking for it.
DB: How do you feel the way you interact with people has changed since completing the course?
MB: I feel the course has helped me observe people in a different way. And I now evaluate the team and if I feel like there’s something that triggers me, and makes me feel something is not quite right, I’m now more likely to initiate a conversation with a team member and say, “How are you?” And then you always get, “I’m fine.” And then I go, “How are you really?”. One of the things I learnt on the course was to ask that question twice. I have found myself doing that a lot in practice, alongside carrying on with welfare meetings, which I’ve been doing for a long time anyway.
I feel you should be carrying out a welfare check of every single team member, including the dentist because they often get ignored. Sometimes, we concentrate on the team members, but we don’t concentrate on the self-employed team members. Welfare chats and “are you okay” are for everybody. It’s not just for dental nurses and admin staff. The welfare of everyone in the practice is important.
DB: What sort of things do you talk about in your welfare chats?
MB: A welfare chat is about how has the last week been for you in the practice? And then how has the last week been for you at home? And those have been my two clear examples and then, going to a little bit more detail, but all it needs is about 15 minutes of one-to-one undivided attention, which means no interruptions. And then, if something comes up, taking the opportunity to explore it more. Now I am a Mental Health First Aider, colleagues in the practice can come to me for a confidential discussion that isn’t a management chat. It’s not about me sharing what’s discussed with other people. It’s just about me supporting their welfare.
DB: Have you taken any other learning from the course you can use in the practice?
MB: Yes. I have started to look at ways of using barometers of how people are feeling today. You can use smiley faces, or one to five, five being great and one being not feeling good at all. I’ve worked with other practices as well that are doing this sort of thing. I think that’s something that any practice can do. My advice about this is, don’t be frightened. I think people are frightened that if somebody says, “I’m a one,” they won’t know what to do about that. But one is permission to ask more questions, isn’t it? And to take that person and let them talk and ask them ‘Is it something we can help you with at work? Is it something we can help you with at home?’ And start having a conversation about that and what help they might need.
I feel over the last couple of years, people are drained, and we need to be looking after each other. We can all be kind to each other, and we can all ask each other very generally, “Are you okay? And is there anything I can do to help you?” Just listening can sometimes be the make or break of somebody not doing something, or stopping a habit that could be making them feel really bad.