Working on the premise that prevention is better than cure, regional support manager at Practice Plan, Emma Flunt caught up with dentist, positive psychologist and CEO of Mind Ninja, Mahrukh Khwaja, to get her suggestions on how dental team members can take care of their own wellbeing.
As a positive psychologist, what positive approaches can team members take themselves to boost their mental wellbeing?
There are a number of things that can be done.
A useful framework to help us apply the science of wellbeing in a practical sense comes from the PERMA model of wellbeing (Seligman, 2011). Here, P = positive emotions, E = engagement at work, R= relationships, M = meaning and A = Accomplishment. This is an evidenced-based framework that is used in schools and organisations including more recently in medical universities.
By working on the elements in the framework not only is a person’s wellbeing increased, but also their psychological distress is decreased.
Applying PERMA in the dental practice
Teams can increase their diet of positive emotions such as gratitude, through writing down three things each member is grateful for and why; they can take a mindful nature walk or do more of whatever brings them joy.
Working out what their strengths are and doing more of that on a daily and weekly basis can give people a boost. For example, if love of learning is a top strength for someone, then they could find a new course to start or learn something new. If colleagues are unsure what their strengths are they could try using the free strengths assessment tool on www.viacharacter.org to highlight their five top strengths in action. It’s also very important to nurture relationships at work and at home to help counteract loneliness through organising quality time with others.
Another thing team members can do is to invite more meaning into their lives. They can do this through using core values and bringing them to work. These could be values such as making a difference, kindness, compassion and fairness.
Also, carrying out acts of kindness at work not only helps the dental team but also make us feel great and increases our sense of purpose. And of course, we shouldn’t forget lifestyle factors that affect wellbeing, such as prioritising adequate sleep, good nutrition and being active.
You can find an explanation of how to apply PERMA in this article.
When looking out for one another, how can teams recognise when a colleague is suffering and what can they do to help?
Keeping an eye on team members’ wellbeing is really important. For leaders, having regular check in conversations as well as having a culture at work of openness, empathy and non-judgement, will go a long way to helping your colleagues.
If you notice a colleague is exhibiting signs of poor mental health such as trouble sleeping, withdrawn, change in appetite, weight loss or change in behaviour, approach them and talk to them in a quiet space. It’s important to listen with kindness in a non-judgmental way.
In these circumstances you’re not listening to respond but more to understand what they are going through. Avoid glib advice such as ‘pull yourself together’, rather offer support, ask them if you can take anything off their plate and help them seek support through signposting while remembering to take account of any cultural differences.
We are lucky to have quite a few organisations specifically for us in dentistry who are able to support individuals at crisis point:
- Confidental – a 24/7 helpline for dentists
- Practitioners Health Programme (PHP) – offering six CBT sessions.
- Dentists Health Support Trust – designed to help colleagues with mental health concerns and addiction issues
- BDA mental health hotline, for BDA members.
You helped a lot of people during the pandemic, so what’s the future for Mind Ninja?
The pandemic has certainly brought mental health and wellbeing for clinicians to the forefront. My deep passion is to keep innovating in this space: pushing the boundaries from single one-off webinars to engaging workshops that help dental professionals explore tools and integrate habits that stick.
Also, last September, I branched into wellbeing products launching the ‘Mind Flossing’ toolkit: a deck of wellbeing cards to help dental professionals practise mindfulness, self-compassion, gratitude, growth mindset and use their strengths with patients and at home.
Since its launch six months ago, 365 dental professionals have benefited from practising the wellbeing tools with four organisations (Acteon, NSK, Practice Plan and the mental health charity, Confidental) supporting the profession through purchasing the toolkits.
So, I am looking forward to continuing to develop the ways in which Mind Ninja can help people. I also eagerly anticipate the release of my book ‘Resilience and Wellbeing For Dental Professionals’ by Wiley-Blackwell in Autumn 2022.