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Mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

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  Posted by: The Probe      8th December 2020

A year ago, most of us could never have imagined life would change as dramatically as it has in the face of a pandemic. In an effort to control the spread of COVID-19, the UK government has had to make difficult decisions that continue to profoundly impact our society. Freedoms are restricted and many people are more isolated than ever before, making it easy to feel overwhelmed. The mental health and wellbeing of the population is now in a particularly fragile state, with more than two thirds of UK adults feeling worried about the effect that COVID-19 is having on their life and, indeed, their future.[1]

At the time of writing, Public Health England had found that self-reported mental health and wellbeing worsened during the COVID-19 crisis, with the decline being the largest in April 2020 – the peak of the pandemic. Those who have been hit hardest include young adults and women, who already had the lowest levels of mental health in society prior to COVID-19. This reflects findings that adults with pre-existing mental health conditions are suffering from higher levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness than adults without such conditions. Some recovery has occurred since last April, but not yet to pre-pandemic levels.[2]

There are various factors driving the worsening of mental health during the COVID-19 crisis, including increased social isolation, fear of contracting the virus and insecurities pertaining to employment, finances and housing.[3] In addition to new or enhanced stressors, the pandemic has diminished many of the mechanisms that people typically use to cope. Going out for a walk, visiting parks or other green spaces and keeping in touch with loved ones are the most popular coping mechanisms among those who have felt stressed about the pandemic.[4] However, many people are still only able to participate in these activities within a limited capacity due to ongoing restrictions on socialising and travelling.

The research paints a concerning picture of the nation’s general mental state. This begs the question as to how dentists, in particular, are coping under the current circumstances, given that poor mental health is known to be prevalent within the dental profession. In a 2004 study, minor psychiatric symptoms ­– including insomnia, fatigue, irritability, depression, anxiety, forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating – were found to be high among general dental practitioners at 32%, which was greater than both doctors and the general population.[5] Furthermore, a 2019 survey carried out by the British Dental Association (BDA) revealed that more than half of UK dentists said stress was affecting their practice.[6]

A decline in mental health and wellbeing can have knock-on effects that drive clinicians towards harmful coping mechanisms.[7] These include excess alcohol consumption, substance misuse and over-eating – activities that have increased among people in the UK during the pandemic.[8] For many dental practitioners, even potentially damaging methods of coping are insufficient to alleviate the effects of poor mental health. Worryingly, nearly half of dentists surveyed by the BDA said they could not manage the level of stress in their job, whilst almost a fifth admitted that they had seriously contemplated committing suicide as a result.6

Nobody should be pushed so close to the edge that they no longer wish to live, which underscores how crucial it is that dental professionals engage with healthy methods of managing stress and preserving a strong state of mind. Exercising regularly and following a healthy diet are well known for having positive effects on both mental and physical wellbeing.[9], [10] In addition, mindful meditation can be beneficial in improving mood and increasing positive emotions, as well as reducing anxiety, emotional reactivity and job burnout.[11], [12], [13], [14] Maintaining a connection with friends, family and colleagues is also more important than ever, especially as doing so has helped many people cope with stress during the pandemic.8

A professional organisation can serve as a vital source of support at a time of crisis, providing a platform for dental teams to engage with each other for much-needed advice and guidance. The BACD, in particular, is proud of its highly inclusive and welcoming community of members, who are passionate about supporting one another through shared knowledge. This ethos is one reason why the BACD offers access to first-class dental education through online CPD courses, available via its members portal on the BACD website. Among the interesting topics these courses cover is mental health in dentistry, which is presented by Dr Simon Chard and explores the extent of the problem within the profession and strategies for managing stress.

Given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis, it is encouraging that most people are coping well with the stress of the pandemic.8 However, this isn’t to say that there aren’t challenges to mental health and wellbeing – particularly for dental professionals – which emphasises the importance of being kind and supporting each other as we move forwards in 2021. In the famous words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

 

For further enquiries about the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, visit www.bacd.com

 

Author:

Nishan Dixit qualified from Guy’s Dental Hospital in 1994. After qualifying, he worked as an associate in a couple of practices in North-West London for 5 years. In 2000, he established Blue Court Dental in Harrow, Middlesex. Being in a general practice environment, he covers all aspects of dentistry. However, he has a particular interest in minimally invasive aesthetic dentistry. He is currently the President of the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry and previously was the Scientific Director. Prior to this, he served on the Anglo-Asian Odontological Group (AOG) Committee for 10 years in various capacities. Following his passion has led him to be trained by leading clinicians both nationally and internationally.

 

[1] Office for National Statistics. (2020) Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 9 October 2020. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritain/9october2020. [Last accessed: 15.10.20].

[2] Public Health England. (2020) 2. Important findings so far. GOV.UK. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-mental-health-and-wellbeing-surveillance-report/2-important-findings-so-far. [Last accessed: 15.10.20].

[3] Office for National Statistics. (2020) Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain: 16 April 2020. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandthesocialimpactsongreatbritain/16april2020. [Last accessed: 15.10.20].

[4] Mental Health Foundation. (2020) Coping with the pandemic: New mental health research reveals how UK adults are managing stress. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/coping-with-the-pandemic. [Last accessed: 15.10.20].

[5] Myers, H. L. and Myers, L. B. (2004) ‘It’s difficult being a dentist’: stress and health in the general dental practitioner. Br Dent J. 197(2): 89–93. DOI: 10.1038/sj.bdj.4811476.

[6] Collin, V., Toon, M., O’Selmo, E., Reynolds, L. and Whitehead, P. (2019) A survey of stress, burnout and well-being in UK dentists. BDJ. 226(1): 40–49. DOI: 10.1038/sj.bdj.2019.6.

[7] Larbie, J., Kemp, M. and Whitehead, P. (2017) The Mental Health and Well-being of UK Dentists: A Qualitative Study. British Dental Association. Available at: https://bda.org/about-the-bda/campaigns/Documents/The%20Mental%20Health%20and%20Well-being%20of%20UK%20Dentists.pdf. [Last accessed: 15.10.20].

[8] Mental Health Foundation. (2020) Resilience across the UK during the coronavirus pandemic. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/Resilience%20across%20the%20UK%20during%20the%20coronavirus%20pandemic.pdf. [Last accessed: 15.10.20].

[9] Mental Health Foundation. (2017) Food for thought: Mental health and nutrition briefing. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/food-for-thought-mental-health-nutrition-briefing-march-2017.pdf. [Last accessed: 15.10.20].

[10] Mental Health Foundation. (2020) How to look after your mental health using exercise. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise. [Last accessed: 15.10.20].

[11] Broderick, P. C. (2005) Mindfulness and Coping with Dysphoric Mood: Contrasts with Rumination and Distraction. Cogn Ther Res. 29: 501–510. DOI: 10.1007/s10608-005-3888-0.

[12] Geschwind, N., Peeters, F., Drukker, M., van Os, J. and Wichers, M. (2011) Mindfulness training increases momentary positive emotions and reward experience in adults vulnerable to depression: a randomized controlled trial. J Consult Clin Psychol. 79(5): 618–28. DOI: 10.1037/a0024595.

[13] Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A.T., Witt, A. A. and Oh, D. (2010) The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. J Consult Clin Psychol. 78(2): 169–83. DOI: 10.1037/a0018555.

[14] Hülsheger, U. R., Alberts, H. M., Feinholdt, A. and Lang, J. B. (2013) Benefits of mindfulness at work: The role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology. 98(2): 310–325. DOI: 10.1037/a0031313.


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