Technically Speaking – addressing mental health

This month, Emily and Eleanor Pittard discuss the importance of addressing mental health within your dental team and the many benefits of appointing a mental health first aider.

This is such an important issue. It always has been, but it’s finally getting the ‘press’ recognition it deserves and has almost become a ‘buzz word’ now.

There is a danger here that people will want to be seen to do something about mental health in the workplace but won’t accomplish anything real.

No quick fixes, no short cuts, and no amount of ‘I’ve updated the policy’ will really shift perspective in the company on the importance of mental health discussions.

Mental health as a topic covers a wide range of issues and concerns, most of which we won’t be able to discuss in one article alone. So firstly we’d like to discuss the importance of having a mental health first aider as part of your team.

We all know just how difficult working in dentistry is. There are high suicide rates, increasing levels of depression, a disconnect between reality and public perception of dentistry – and a ridiculous waiting list.

We have both seen first-hand just how toxic a dental workplace can get as demands grow both internally and externally. And all while juggling a reduced workforce as more people leave the GDC register and recurring illnesses from Covid-19 hit harder.

Training as a mental health aider can be done over a couple of days (usually, but this can vary) with a plethora of local groups. We trained with Dorset Mind who were incredible.

Once qualified, you will be better placed to help identify colleagues who are struggling, create opportunities for talking, be a better listener and help direct people to those who can provide great ongoing support.

Open the conversation

We were both fascinated by just how many groups (both local and national) there are out there who are trained to support people through a whole wealth of crises and concerns. We felt it was important, as owners, to be mental health first aiders This is so we can be better leaders and hopefully provide better support to our team.

This does not mean every owner or leader should rush out to train. But investing in someone in your company who you notice is a good listener or perhaps good at keeping the peace or someone who is passionate about helping others is a great way to open the conversation about mental health. It would also help to make it a topic that is easy to approach – not one that has so many stigmas attached to it.

One area that we found particularly interesting was just how widespread anxiety is. Although we always feel like everyone else is okay (or at least that is what Instagram tells us), it’s clear that everyone suffers from anxiety.

It’s also important to understand the difference between an anxiety disorder and general anxiety. This is judged by the severity, length of time and interference with work or personal relationships.

This is because it can help to recognise when your colleagues are dealing with a difficult situation and need a little bit of support to get through to the other side and when they are suffering daily from something that is impacting everything and are unable to see ‘the other side’.

In this case, an open workplace and the availability of someone to have a conversation could help them on the path to recovery.

The facts

Now, as with everything, there is a cost implication. The training isn’t free, and allowing an open workplace means that sometimes employees will be paid to listen.

This does impact a business financially in the short term. This is because, in this situation, neither employee is working towards the profitability of the company.

However, it’s important to understand the facts and figures around mental health. This will make you appreciate how, in the long term, it’s financially beneficial to the company.

Here are just a few statistics below (sources are and MHFA England).

  1. Evidence suggests that 12.7% of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions
  2. Better mental health support reduces presenteeism (lost productivity that occurs due to an employee working while ill) and absenteeism. It also reduces the negative impact on morale
  3. Mental ill health costs UK employers approximately £56 billion each year. In addition, cost of presenteeism is £28 billion, cost of staff turnover is £22 billion, and cost of absenteeism is £6 billion
  4. The total cost of mental ill health to employers has increased by 25% since 2019
  5. For every £1 spent on mental health interventions, employers could get back £5.30 in reduced absence, presenteeism and staff turnover
  6. One third of employees expect or would like more support for their mental health and wellbeing from their employers. And only 38% believe their line managers are confident to have sensitive conversations and signpost staff to expert sources.

What will work for your team?

So, it’s fair to say that choosing not to focus on mental health will, in the long term, have a detrimental impact on your business and your employees.

We have a theory – which is not based in any fact or research, but rather our experience.

Our theory is that around every three months, everyone is pretty much done. Done with work, done with the weather, done with the monotony that life can sometimes bring.

A good way to counter this is to arrange a team day out, evening out, activity or training every three months. Something that people can look forward to and that will motivate/inspire or provide light relief. This is one way we try to help with general mental well-being.

There are plenty of things that employers can do. It’s just about figuring out what works best for your team and actually implementing it. That’s the first important step in the right direction.

Catch up with the previous Technically Speaking column:

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