Mental Illness in the Workplace: Dentists and Depression – Part 5 of 5

Editor’s note: This is part five of a five-part series addressing mental illness in the workplace. Part one explores mental illness in the United States, part two explains ways in which mental illness affects work, part three explains when and how to tell a manager about a mental illness, part four addresses how managers should best proceed with an employee who has a mental illness, and part five makes the connection between the dental industry and depression.

Would it shock you to know that year after year dentist ranks among the occupations with the highest suicide rates? It sure shocked me. According to Mental Health Daily.com’s blog post Top 11 Professions with Highest Suicide Rates, dentist comes in at No. 2 right before police officer at No.3 and right after medical doctor at No. 1.

“The dental field is considered extremely competitive and requires significant technical skill to deliver optimal oral care,” the blog reads. “Dentists work in a field that is rife with stress from working long hours and complaints from patients.” Research suggests that dentists are nearly 1.67 times as likely to commit suicide compared to an average job, and factors that could contribute to that increased risk include stress, demanding nature of the job, patient complaints, and perfectionism. Loans from dental school is also listed as a contributing factor, as many new dentists enter the field with significant debt and inadvertently wear themselves out by overworking to pay the loans off. While being a dentist can result in significant income, the blog states that not many people realize the degree of stress that most dentists experience. “Couple these factors with ease of access to various drugs and  well rounded pharmacological knowledge, and committing suicide becomes and easy prospect.” Additionally, states the blog, dentists are believed to suffer from higher rates of mental illness due to stress but are less likely than average to seek out help for their condition.

A study summarized by the American Dental Association examined more than 3,500 dentists, of which 38 percent reported feeling worried or anxious constantly or frequently. In the same study, 34 percent reported frequent feelings of physical or emotional exhaustion, and 26 percent reported continuous or frequent backaches and headaches. 

The Dentist’s Money Digest article “Depression Among Dentists, A Silent Epidemic” says the stress-related problems, such as depression, result from both the work environment and the typical type of people entering the dental profession. “Isolation, confinement to small, usually windowless spaces, and continuous intricate, meticulous work are all factors that might contribute to the development of depression,” writes Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN, the author of the article. “There is usually tremendous economic pressure on dentists, with many practitioners facing huge loans for both school and the cost of opening a practice. Some institutions theorize that dentists also have a tendency toward perfectionism driven personalities, which can lead to frequent disappointment both in life and in practice regardless of the effort to succeed.”

Handle then goes on to write about what dentists should do if they are feeling depressed and anxious. “First, it’s important to realize that there is no shame in admitting you might need help. Depression is not a weakness. It is an indiscriminate condition, affecting people from all walks of life,” she writes. “There are multiple resources available to help treat depression, but the first step is typically an evaluation by a physician to rule out any physical causes for your condition. Provided there is no evidence of any physical problems, your physician will refer you to a mental health provider for further treatment.”

If the depression is caught in the early stages, it might be treatable with therapy, however antidepressants could be prescribed if the depression stems from a chemical imbalance and if it has been persisting for some time. “ry to set realistic goals for treatment, and let your friends and loved ones help you. Just as you help your patients maintain their healthy smiles, it’s important to let trained professionals, family and friends help you maintain and improve your own mental health,” she wrote.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression its important to get help. With the advancements in medicine and with the stigma of mental illness is slowly lifting, there is no reason you have to suffer. Take the first step to getting mentally healthy today.

Katie Devereaux

Resume Coach and Blogger at Dental Temps Professional Services
Katie Devereaux is a writer and editor, who graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism. She has written for several publications in Florida, Alaska and Illinois.
Katie Devereaux

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About Katie Devereaux

Katie Devereaux is a writer and editor, who graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism. She has written for several publications in Florida, Alaska and Illinois.