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Mental health during the pandemic


  Posted by: The Probe      7th August 2020

Allison Large, DDU dento-legal adviser, lends her advice on managing stress.

The upheaval and social impact of the coronavirus has undoubtedly had an adverse effect on dental professionals’ health and wellbeing. According to a recent DDU survey of 224 dental professionals, 68% think their stress and anxiety levels have worsened since the pandemic began. And when asked about their health and wellbeing generally, half of respondents felt unable to do their jobs effectively or unable to spend adequate time with patients (49% and 52% respectively). Meanwhile, two thirds (67%) felt stressed or anxious on a weekly basis and 47% admitted going to work when they didn’t feel well.

It is very concerning that so many dental professionals’ health and wellbeing is suffering because of their work. The pandemic has magnified the problem with many facing additional stress, from financial concerns, worries about their health and their family’s wellbeing and not being able to care for patients in the usual way. Some colleagues are also working in the unfamiliar surroundings of an urgent dental care centre or volunteering to help the NHS in other ways.

On a positive note, 72% of respondents to our survey feel that they are making a positive difference to their patients and 88% share concerns with family, and 57% do so with colleagues.

In the DDU’s long history of representing members in adversity, we have seen how multiple pressures – money, career and family – can exact a heavy toll on someone’s health and wellbeing at any time. In our experience, colleagues are not immune from mental health problems and we encourage anyone in difficulty to make the most of their support network.

Besides friends, family and colleagues, there are many sources of professional advice and help available. These include: the NHS Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) which has set up a special Covid-19 wellbeing service with specific advice and resources for healthcare professionals; the Dentist’s Health Support Programme (DHSP) and the Samaritans. Some free mindfulness techniques are also available online from The Mindfulness initiative.

If you have concerns about your own health, it’s important to consult your GP or another healthcare professional. In our survey 42% of respondents said they would consult a GP about health issues which means a majority may not. Don’t be tempted to selfmedicate to alleviate symptoms such as exhaustion or anxiety or you risk making the situation worse. The GDC expects dental professionals to look after their own health in the interests of providing safe and appropriate care and it warns: “You must not rely on your own assessment of the risk you pose to patients. You should seek occupational health advice or other appropriate advice as soon as possible.” (para 9.2.2, Standards for the Dental Team).

In order to support those in difficulty, the DDU has launched a new e-learning course on health and wellbeing aimed at helping dental professionals to recognise the warning signs for anxiety, depression and burnout. The course aims to help with developing the skills to manage stressful situations. In addition, our team of expert advisers can provide dento-legal support to members. It’s worth pointing out that the team are dentists who understand the pressures you face.

In these testing times, it has never been more important for everyone in the dental community to support and look out for each other.

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