Stress is a reality for a lot of dentists working in all fields of practice. We know this, because we, as well as others, have been doing research into the extent of the problem, and findings so far show some concerning trends.
On World Mental Health Day on 10th October, we flagged up the issue of the ways stress, and other factors, can cause problems for the dental profession - both employers and employees, and what can be done about it.
Stress can be a motivator for many of us and I know many dentists feel that stress is just part of the job. To some extent, that is true, we often work under a range of pressures, clinical and otherwise, and we deal with these, on a daily basis.
But at some point, we may feel overwhelmed by things, and that's when we need to seek support. The consequences of stress can be devastating and it's something we all need to think about. The earlier we realise something is wrong and reach out, then then the more likely we are to be able to stop it escalating.
Mental health: What's the scale of the issue?
As a nation, research indicates that Northern Ireland has higher levels of mental health issues than England and this appears to be increasing over time. According to prescribing trends, NI has significantly higher levels of depression than the rest of the UK.
The percentage of public spending invested in health services in Northern Ireland has consistently been the lowest in the UK, at 19.7%, compared to 22% in in England, 20.4% in Scotland and 20.3% in Wales, and yet Northern Ireland has been estimated as having the highest average health need per person in the UK.
Northern Ireland spends less than half of England's per capita spend on supporting people with mental health issues and learning disabilities.
The Mental Health Foundation notes that mental health data and research is still limited in Northern Ireland, particularly in relation to the rest of the UK.
So, we are currently doing a programme of research (across the UK), to find out the causes of stress in dental working environments and to work on providing solutions to coping with stress and burnout.
What can you do?
We are now asking dentists to fill out our survey, which will help to get the full picture of issues dentists are facing today. I urge you to take some time to do this, as we will be able to use this information to campaign for more positive working environments for dentists.
We are also working with the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA), the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), the BDA Benevolent Fund, and the Public Health Agency (PHA), as part of the 'Probing stress in dentistry' group which aims to raise awareness of the problem of stress in the dental workforce, and to signpost current resources and training.
We recently sent out posters to all dental practices in Northern Ireland, promoting five steps to wellbeing. There are several free courses available, including Mindset mental health awareness, safeTALK suicide prevention training and Mental Health First Aid – find out more about what's available on the NIMDTA website.
It's important that everyone is aware of the issues and signs of stress and mental health issues, and that we all take action to do something about it – both for ourselves and for others.
Chair, BDA Northern Ireland Council
Supporting you at work
There are a variety of resources and courses available to dentists on helping to manage stress and ensuring wellbeing in the workplace, take a look at our campaign page for some helpful advice and resources on stress.
Dentists in Northern Ireland can also contact the following organisations directly, for confidential advice or support:
Lifeline NI 0808 808 8000
Samaritans Belfast (028) 90664422 (local call charges apply)
Samaritans National number 116 123 (this number is free to call)