World Mental Health Day with Preetee Hylton – ‘I felt alone, misunderstood, and judged’

World Mental Health Day with Preetee Hylton

Preetee Hylton opens up about why mental health conversations are so important to her both personally and professionally.

Why are mental health conversations something you strive to have?

Open and honest mental health conversations matter to me as I have suffered from clinical postnatal depression in the past and had consequently attempted suicide by overdosing on analgesics, which landed me in a hospital ward.

Despite receiving therapy and having been on anti-depressants occasionally, I still felt alone, misunderstood, and judged. I wish I had the support network I have now. Back then, I did not need to be understood, I just wish I had someone to be present and to listen to me.

It never gets easier speaking about my personal experience on a public platform but the aim of me speaking out is to reassure readers who are struggling with their mental health that they are not on their own. There are many of us who are here, and we care – please reach out.

I am on Samaritans’ Insight Panel and their Lived Experience Panel as well. The Insight Panel assist in shaping the future of Samaritans by participating in surveys and polls, hence improving the way support is provided to those who are struggling to cope.

The Lived Experience Panel is for those who have experienced self-harm and feeling suicidal, have attempted suicide in the past or perhaps bereavement by suicide. We are encouraged to give our opinions on future campaigns and/ or the creating of new services.

Men are often reluctant to speak out, with studies suggesting more so than women. How can practices improve this? Do you think this is changing?

Men seem to be more reluctant to speak out regarding their struggles with mental health than women – I posed the question to my partner who responded, ‘Admitting to having mental health issues is still perceived as a weakness in men’.

There are other factors which are associated with men struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts, such as personality traits, their financial status, mid-life crisis, relationship breakdowns.

This is changing as there are numerous organisations which are inclusive and are encourage dialogue, regardless of gender.

In 2021, Samaritans published a handbook called Engaging Men Earlier: a guide to service design, which includes five main principles upon which better mental health and wellbeing initiatives should be based. This was created by speaking to men across the UK and Ireland, exploring what initiatives could be taken before reaching a crisis.

The five principles, based on the Samaritans’ website, are:

  1. Use activities to facilitate conversation
  2. Be welcoming and accessible
  3. Communicate clearly
  4. Foster meaningful relationships over time
  5. Foster a sense of achievement.

A safe, non-judgemental culture which promotes open and honest conversations about mental health is key to a healthy and happy work environment.

Why is mental health so important to the future of dentistry?

We must seek to make conscious efforts to take good care of our mental health and maintain it, so that we can provide the best possible care to our patients. Stress and anxiety (regardless of where they stem from) are harmful to us and may lead to less favourable outcomes regarding patient care.

The sheer focus required by the clinicians and dental nurses on such a small area of the body during 8-12 hours working shifts can be draining, as well the physical ailments poor posture causes long term.

Complying with all the regulations and legislations, as well as keeping up with various updates in dentistry and healthcare does take its toll on the team.

I believe Covid-19 has left the dental team feeling the guilt of being unable to care for their patients, therefore leading to high levels of stress and anxiety.

Over-working, with minimal breaks has created a decrease in morale amongst dental professionals. Practice owners and team leads must recognise signs of fatigue and burnout in the team and work towards creating healthy workplaces.

The most current issue is the increase in cost of living, which will have a severe impact on businesses and dental professionals. The increase in energy bills (despite the new prime minister’s price capping) will leave households struggling.

Some dental nurses are still on £11 per hour, although they have been qualified for years and possess a vast amount of experience in dentistry.

This is a highly stressful situation because the future of dentistry does, to a certain extent, rely on staff retention as recruitment is proving to be quite challenging within the profession.

The above needs addressing. Better mental health means higher staff retention, less conflict within the team, higher productivity, and therefore, better care and service to our patients.

What can practices practically do to support team members?

1. Provide the team with good and healthy working conditions

Set achievable goals for your team members, set healthy boundaries and promote the learning of new skills in the workplace, as well as adapt working systems, if possible, to meet the needs of staff.

Implementing short 15 minutes mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks within dentistry may not be welcome. But this is time for all to have a drink of water, use the bathroom and stretch after sitting/standing in awkward positions for hours.

2. Implement effective leadership

Ensure that your team is led with empathy, kindness, understanding with a focus on overall wellbeing of the team and the team members.

3. Encourage open and honest conversations

Conversations regarding mental health should be always welcome – promote effective listening. Allow members to share their stories and express their feelings, acknowledge those emotions.

At times, the temptation is for us to share own story, thinking that the other person might relate, but it is best to allow them that safe space, ensuring that they are aware that that specific moment belongs to them, and their voice is being heard – this promotes respect within the team.

Use psychosocial key phrases conveying genuine interest and empathy, eg ‘I hear what you are saying’, ‘In this situation, your reaction is quite natural’, ‘I am concerned about you and would like to suggest to refer you to someone who is able to help you’.

4. Carry out quarterly appraisals

Appraisals are not carried out for the sole purpose of a possible pay rise. It is an opportunity for both the employer and the employee to discuss strengths, weaknesses, job satisfaction, mental health, improvements within the team and business and devise solutions for the best of all concerned.

5. Encourage mental health awareness in the team and implement a mental health at work plan

Create a ‘team wellbeing’ folder – a hardcopy or softcopy, available to all staff members at any time.

This folder should include resources from reliable mental health awareness and wellbeing organisations such as Mind, Mental Health Foundation, Samaritans, Calm etc.

Appropriate signposting is essential. This should be part of induction for new team members and regular training for all the team.

I would encourage having a ‘wellbeing tips’ section on the noticeboard in the staffroom – with input from everyone, as well as having a Mental Health Champion on the premises.

Helpful resources:

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