31 Dec 2020  •  Blog, Covid-19, Mental Health, Practice Management  •  7min read By  • Zoe Close

Your dentistry questions answered: mental health

Practice Plan’s Zoe Close looks for answers to the questions you’re asking…

How can I manage my anxiety at work?

Surveys conducted by Practice Plan, the BDA and Dental Protection over the last few years have shown that many dental professionals struggle with their mental health.

Given the extraordinary times we have been living in lately, and the huge impact of COVID-19 on how dental practices operate, it’s likely that these struggles will have increased. A recent Dental Protection survey showed that 53% of dentists felt financial worries were having the most impact on their mental health.

Bearing that in mind, I turned to Rory O’Connor, Clinical Lead at the Dental Health Support Trust, and Lauren Harrhy, Founder of Mental Dental, for their advice for people asking: How can I manage my anxiety at work?

Rory: ‘Dentistry is facing a new norm, as all workplaces are. Who would have thought a year ago that COVID-19 would appear and challenge us in so many ways? With the gradual return of the practise of dentistry, this new norm has brought a new challenge and with any challenge, it is normal to feel anxious if you are facing something that could be seen as difficult or dangerous.

However, it is not usual to feel anxious all of the time or to feel that anxiety is ruling your working life. Severe anxiety is alarming and causes the body to overreact to something which is not really dangerous.

The most notable physical signs of anxiety are: nausea, light headedness, sweating, racing heart, palpitations and rapid breathing.

At worst, extreme anxiety can lead to panic attacks, which can be very frightening and can come out of the blue. A panic attack can be described as a sudden overwhelming sense of anxiety, including feelings of absolute terror, very rapid breathing and heart-beat, dizziness or faintness, sweating and hot or cold flushes, and feelings of unreality.

Excessive anxiety is like a diet of fear, which is avaricious in nature. In order for it to stay active, it needs to be fed. The workplace can be a major staple diet for fear.

So, what do you do?

Firstly, take steps to identify the aspects of work that may be triggering the anxiety. Acknowledge that there may be some things in the workplace that you cannot change. Work on the principle of identify the problem and explore the solution. Do not waste energy on things that cannot be changed.

If you are feeling anxious in the workplace, take some time to slow down your breathing. Practice this regularly throughout the day. A useful aid for this could be ‘one moment meditation’, http://onemomentcompany.com/app/.

Take regular exercise that you enjoy. Maintain healthy eating and healthy sleeping patterns. Be mindful not to use alcohol or other substances as medicants. In summary, do not be afraid.’

Lauren: ‘Mental health has been under the microscope somewhat over the past few years. It has long been acknowledged that many of us in the dental profession have more than our fair share of mental health issues.

I have spoken openly and often about my own experiences of stress, burnout, PTSD and post-natal anxiety. Not all of this is linked directly with dentistry of course. I was fortunate to have very supportive family and friends and this meant that I was able to climb back up from my low points and have never sunk anywhere near as low since.

The premature passing of my mother in 2016 threatened to destabilise my progress, as did the birth of my third child at the same time that I was purchasing my practice. I was spending lots of time on social media as I recovered from the birth and ran across several anxiety-ridden posts on some of the larger Facebook groups.

I started to think about the support groups my mother attended and ran, when I was young, for parents of children with Speech and Language disorders. She found them so useful because she could talk to others in a similar situation, safe in the knowledge that they would understand what she was going through (my brother has ASD and a plethora of associated conditions, the most problematic for him being his Speech and Language disorder).

Support groups for dentists

I pondered whether such a thing was possible to recreate virtually and set up Mental Dental – A Group for Dentists in Crisis as a support group. It allows dentists to get their problems out of their own heads and to see that many others have had similar experiences and come through the other side.

It allows colleagues to sympathise or empathise and signpost to organisations that may be of help. Anonymous posting and general running of the group can take a fair amount of time but I have a wonderful team of like-minded admins who keep a close eye on what’s going on.

I had wanted to set up a Mental Dental Helpline but had absolutely no idea how to do it. One day a fantastic gentleman called Jeremy Cooper wrote a post on one of the larger dental groups saying that he wanted to set up a helpline for dentists in emotional distress.

Several people connected us and Jeremy set about creating the Confidental Helpline with a determination I’ve rarely ever seen displayed before! Along with Keith Hayes, Jen Pinder and a group of dedicated volunteers, we launched Confidental on 27th May 2019. We’ve had over 400 calls in that time and gained charitable status earlier this year.

Confidental provides emotional first aid and signposting 24/7 and our volunteers are either current or retired dentists.

Earlier in the year, Roz McMullen, BDA president, ran a focus day on mental health and wellbeing in dentistry and what became clear is that many dentists do not know where to turn for help. There are several excellent organisations, all of whom have slightly differing roles and approaches, which are there ready and waiting to help dentists who are in difficulty.

The COVID-19 period has seen a concern for the mental wellbeing of the whole population and has caused dentists untold amounts of stress and anxiety as the financial worries and overwhelming barrage of information (and misinformation) has become, at times, unbearable.

Over this period, we are aware of three dentists who have died by suicide. Of course, the causation cannot be assumed as there are often several contributing factors. It has brought sharply into focus again the need for support for dental professionals.’

Thanks to Rory and Lauren for sharing all their advice and experience. As is often the case, one of the most important things you can do if you are struggling is talk to someone and find the support that you need.

About Zoe:

Zoe Close is Head of Sales at Practice Plan, the leading provider of practice-branded dental plans. Zoe has 30 years’ experience in the dental sector, including Group Business Manager for a corporate group, dental nurse, head receptionist and practice manager. Through this regular column, she offers YOU the chance to ask any questions you may have about dentistry and running a practice today. Simply email hello@practiceplan.co.uk with your question alongside your job title and location, and let us do the rest!

About Rory:

Rory O’Connor is the Clinical Lead for the Dental Health Support Trust. He is a registered psychiatric nurse, holds an MSc in Addictions, a BA in Psychology and a Diploma in Counselling, and has worked for 39 years in mental health and addictions. For more information about the DHST visit: http://dentistshealthsupporttrust.org/, or call their helpline on: 0207 224 4671.

About Lauren:

Lauren Harrhy has been a GDP for over 11 years. She owns Sparkle Dental Centre in Pontypool, South Wales. She is Vice Chair of the BDA Young Dentists Committee, South East Wales Representative on the BDA GDPC, Vice Chair of Welsh GDPC and also sits on the Welsh Dental Council. Lauren is married with three young children.

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