More than half dentists ‘emotionally exhausted’

Study also raised concern at unprompted disclosure of suicidal thoughts

21 June, 2021 / infocus
 Will Peakin  

A survey of dental trainees and primary dental care staff in Scotland has found that more than a quarter of respondents displayed symptoms of depression, and more than half rated themselves as “emotionally exhausted”.

The study1 by St Andrews University’s School of Medicine, Dundee University’s Dental Health Services Research Unit, and NHS Education for Scotland, said: “Primary care staff felt less prepared for managing their health, coping with uncertainty and financial insecurity compared with their trainee counterparts.

“Depressive symptomology was rated higher than reported community samples. Burnout was indirectly implicated and a major path from trauma to burnout was found to be significant in primary care staff.”

No one should feel alone or unable to talk to someone at work

One respondent, a GDS dentist, wrote: “This survey has highlighted the despair, hopelessness and uncertainty I feel for my future and ability to cope with such a shocking and uncontrollable change to my financial and working situation. I have suicidal thoughts on a daily basis, but the only reason I am able to function is the business bounce back loan I have [which] my new accountant told me was available.”

‘Researchers had not included a question on so-called ‘suicidal ideation’ in their survey, carried out between June and October last year, so were unable provide a quantitative comparison with other similar studies, but they noted: “The non-solicited volunteering of this disclosure in the free-response comments of our survey gives cause for concern.”

Publication of the study was cited at the launch last month of a new initiative to encourage all dental workplaces to make mental health wellness a priority. The Mental Health Wellness strategic steering group was formed through the Dental Professional Alliance, to co-design, develop and maintain a framework that “encourages and enables all dental professionals to act in a timely, appropriate, and safe manner when identifying mental health wellness issues in the workplace.”

The framework calls for a ‘mental health wellness lead’ to be appointed in every dental setting “with an underlying ethos that early intervention and safe signposting is paramount”.

Roz McMullan, Chair of Probing Stress in Dentistry in Northern Ireland, said: “No one should feel alone or unable to talk to someone at work and for this very reason, this call to action asks decision makers and line managers to adopt this cultural change to mental health wellness in the dental workplace and commit to the recognised training pathway.”

1Exploring the Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Dental Team: Preparedness, Psychological Impacts and Emotional Reactions

Tags: Stress

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