As healthcare professionals celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week, May 10 through May 16, the Dental Professional Alliance (DPA) Mental Health Wellness in Dentistry strategic steering group is developing a framework to help dental professionals identify and appropriately act upon mental health wellness issues in the workplace.
According to the initiative, each dental workplace should identify an individual to act as a mental health wellness lead. This individual, after completing a recognized training program, should be confident, competent, and committed to improving the perception of mental health wellness in the workplace. This forms part of a six-part process:
- All members of the dental team should undergo stress awareness training.
- Practices should identify a mental health wellness lead.
- These leads should undertake mental health first aid training.
- These leads should design a workplace action plan.
- These leads should join local peer support networks.
- These leads should complete annual training and maintain skills.
“No one should feel alone or unable to talk to someone at work, and for this very reason, this call to action asks decision-makers and line managers to adopt this cultural change to mental health wellness in the dental workplace and commit to the recognized training pathway,” said steering group chair Roz McMullan, who also is chair of probing stress in dentistry in Northern Ireland.
Though dentists have long been known for their struggles with mental health, the DPA said, these issues impact the entire dental team. These pressures have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the DPA continued.
For example, the DPA cited research noting that 27% of a cohort of 329 respondents reported significant depressive symptomology, and 55% appear to have suffered emotional exhaustion. Primary care staff reported higher incidences of these symptoms, the DPA said, suggesting that staff could benefit from support and interventions.
“We want this mental health wellness to deliver real change in the dental workplace through a plan of practical advice and action. We will work with partners to provide leadership, support, and direction on joint work,” said Fiona Ellwood, BEM, DPA, chair of the steering group and a trained and practicing mental health first responder.
“We will work with employers, local teams, and professional partners in the UK to oversee implementation of the framework. Fundamentally, we want to see a mental health wellness lead in every practice and place of dental employment across the UK,” Ellwood said.