Pictured left to right - Yvette Greenway, SOS Co-founder, Martin W Curran, BDA Northern Ireland Branch President and Michael Mansfield QC, SOS Co-founder
One of areas where I am trying to make a difference is by persuading people who have experienced so much anguish in their lives that they are seriously contemplating suicide, that there are other options.
It's probably connected to coming from Belfast, where it was hard to escape decades of conflict and the legacy of this appears to continue, since Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK.
Whilst research indicates that healthcare workers are more at risk of burn out, there isn't the evidence to show that dentists are more likely to take their lives than anyone else.
That surprises me because personally I know of eight dentists who have.
And, to me, any number is too high.
None of us are mind readers and we can't know of everyone who might be contemplating suicide. We hope to be able to pick up on clues or signs, that we might not be aware of and that's where I believe we can help make a difference.
At the BDA Northern Ireland Branch, we recently hosted an event called "SOS: The Silence of Suicide", where we developed a comprehensive plan to make colleagues more aware of their personal wellbeing, and provide tools to identify high levels of stress early on.
We want to give people practical steps to turn around what can be a terrifying situation.
We've also been working on a project called Probing Stress in Dentistry, alongside The Board (Family Health Authority), Dental Protection, Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency and Public Health Agency.
What else can we do?
I was moved by the fact that the high-profile barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, and his partner, Yvette Greenway, became co-founders and chief executives of Silence of Suicide, following their own tragic losses.
The raison d'être for their charity was to break down the barriers of talking about suicide, to help dispel the incredible shame and stigma that relatives and partners often feel in these circumstances.
I invited them to speak at a Branch event earlier this month, and was delighted when they accepted.
Michael, a very engaging speaker, spoke about the shock and numbness he felt after his daughter Anna's suicide in 2015, while Yvette, talked about how she was affected after close friends and colleagues had taken their own lives.
They showed a short video to the audience and invited people to talk about how suicide had affected them, and how early identification and intervention can help those in difficulty.
Audience members found it helpful to speak about their own experiences with suicide.
Our Probing Stress in Dentistry group and Connect Counselling were also at the meeting to provide support.
In keeping with the spirit of breaking down the 'Silence of Suicide', the event was open to everyone, whether or not they worked in dentistry, and the BBC also helped to spread the word by covering the item on late news, breakfast TV and local radio.
In the long-term, I hope that our pioneering work on Probing Stress in Dentistry will act as a useful template to help other burnt out colleagues in other parts of the UK, where help is in short supply.
Martin W Curran, President
BDA Northern Ireland Branch
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)
BDA Northern Ireland
BDA Northern Ireland supports, represents and promotes, the interests of all dentists working in Northern Ireland. Working with elected committee members, we negotiate on behalf of the profession on terms and conditions, pay and contracts. Join us.