Keep the conversation going – Helen Minnery


  Posted by: probe-admin      7th September 2018

MENTAL health is becoming less and less of a taboo subject in modern society, as more people feel comfortable enough to share their experiences and talk about the issue. This has been helped along enormously by nationwide campaigns and the involvement of many celebrities who have brought the topic to the fore. Indeed, mental health has even been the focus of royal attention, after Prince Harry, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge formed the Heads Together foundation in 2016.

The more we talk about it, the more people we realise have been affected by it and the more normal it becomes. The hopeful outcome of this is to ensure that those who need help and support are not afraid to seek it out.

There are many different forms of mental health conditions that could affect anyone at any time. They vary in severity, in how long they last and in how they can be managed – plus, everyone is different and will be impacted in a slightly different way.

In the profession

In dentistry, stress seems to be a major contributor to the mental health of professionals – as was found in the BDA’s survey of dentists published in 2017.1 Another 2017 study2 found several causes of stress in dental hygiene and dental therapy students during their undergraduate years, although a strong desire to become a clinician seemed to make it all worth it. Students’ perceived sources of stress were also associated with a sense of meaningfulness, and this idea has been further explored in a paper considering whether workshops could help students cope with stress better.3 The results suggested that improved coping methods for stress could have a positive influence on individuals.

Among patients

Mental health is just as important to consider when it comes to caring for our patients, as there is evidence to suggest a bi-directional relationship. We are all more than aware of the prevalence of dental fear and phobia among patients. An expectation of pain is among the possible reasons for dental fear, and this can be exacerbated by existing mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.4

Equally though, psychiatric disorders can lead to poorer standards of oral health and there seems to be a correlation between severity of mental illness and risk of dental health problems. This is due to a higher risk of poor nutrition and oral hygiene, heavy consumption of sugary drinks, barriers to dental care, and comorbid substance misuse like tobacco, alcohol or psychostimulants.2

Don’t worry, be happy

Improving and maintaining the mental health of both professionals and patients is therefore very important moving forward. NHS Choices suggests five key steps for mental wellbeing:5

1. Connect with people around you, from family and friends to neighbours and colleagues, and spend time developing those relationships.

2. Stay active by taking a walk, participating in a sport or going to the gym – just find something you enjoy that gets you moving and out of the house.

3. Keep learning new skills to bring something new to your life and challenge yourself. This also provides the opportunity to obtain that sense of achievement that we all appreciate.

4. Be mindful by making a conscious effort to be more aware of the present moment, including feelings, emotions and thoughts.

5. Give to others as even the smallest acts can help to improve your mental wellbeing, while also providing a chance to establish new social networks.

Interestingly, a report published in 2017 supports the last point made above. It considered the links between happiness and psychological wellbeing and selflessness.6 Despite previous beliefs that we each need to put ourselves first in order to maintain both our mental and physical health, this study suggested a significant correlation between self-centredness and fluctuating happiness, as well as a significant relationship between selflessness and authentic-durable happiness. While looking after ourselves is still important, taking time to do selfless acts and give something back may be just as crucial – if not more so – for happiness and mental wellbeing.

The British Society of Dental Hygiene and Therapy (BSDHT) appreciates the need for physical and mental health among its members, and would encourage anyone with concerns to use its extensive network to seek any support and guidance they may need. Mental health is not something to hide; it is something many of us need to work at and to do this we need to talk about it. Together, we can keep the conversation going.

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