A problem shared…
The impact and continued growth of the Mental Dental forum on Facebook is an indication of the profession’s concern over wellbeing
If any further confirmation were needed about the depth of the mental health problem facing the dental profession in the UK today, then surely Mental Dental – A Group For Dentists in Crisis has provided it.
The Facebook forum was set up by dentists worried that there wasn’t enough being done to tackle the problem that many knew existed but were powerless to do anything to help to address.
Within weeks of being launched by Welsh dentist Lauren Harrhy almost 2,800 dentists had signed up. Today, that number has almost doubled and new members are being added every day. There are also 15 administrators and moderators, who are all dentists volunteering to help during their spare time.
The forum is a platform for fellow dentists to share their thoughts, fears and experiences. But it is imperative to stress that it is not a mental health resource, and there are concerns among some of the profession’s leaders that the forum could exacerbate rather then help issues.
They strongly urge any dentist who is suffering stress or anxiety at work to contact their doctor or any one of the numerous professional mental health organisations and charities that exist to support people facing issues.
However, there can be no doubt that Mental Dental is a barometer of the depth of the problem. The number of members speaks volumes and, as one of its administrators argues, there is a place for it in the battle to tackle mental health in the profession.
Nicola McMillan is a Glasgow graduate who works as an associate in NHS general practice. She was installed as the first forum administrator after she and Lauren realised there were few places for dentists to go if they were feeling stressed or anxious.
She had known of dentists who had left the profession or, worse, taken their own lives, because of overwhelming pressures. Their shared concern led to Lauren setting up the group, despite the fact that she’s a practice principal with three young children.
As the forum has developed, so has the ability of its members to help each other.
“The aim is to provide support but never to advise. We, and forum members, are fellow dentists not professional counsellors,” she said.
She noted that certain topics crop up regularly – relationship issues between staff and principals, malicious complaints by patients, personal matters such as divorce, and general feelings of discontent with the profession.
One other area of concern is social media itself. “In our case, social media is a positive, but on many occasions it can help create or exacerbate negative feelings. We get lots of people suggesting that other forums where dentists’ posts show them leading apparently idyllic lives simply serve to make fellow professionals feel depressed and/or insecure.”
Notably, the forum has helped to demonstrate that fears about the mental health and wellbeing of dentists are not restricted to the UK.
A past president of the Australian Dental Association Queensland (ADAQ) was in touch with Lauren and Nicola in early 2018 to ask about their experience and how Mental Dental operates. As a result, that part of the world now has its own version called Mental Block. One of the main differences is that the Queensland forum is funded by ADAQ, unlike Mental Dental, which is fully self-supporting. Nicola believes there’s a strong case for its own set-up to receive independent backing.
Meantime, the effectiveness of the forum can only be judged by its ability to provide support to its members. “We can never know for sure exactly what impact we are having,” said Nicola. “However, we have had a lot of positive feedback and there’s no doubt we have helped people – a number have taken the trouble to get in touch and say exactly that.”
The need is out there, and Mental Dental – A Group For Dentists in Crisis is doing its bit to meet that demand.
To find out more about the group, search for Mental Dental on Facebook.
Words: David Cameron, Stewart McRobert, Tim Power