Mental health in modern times

21 November 2020
3 min read

Michael Sultan looks at the impact the events of 2020 have had on our wellbeing.

It is interesting to think that true understanding of mental health is still a relatively recent concept – something that is continuing to develop and change at an astonishing pace. Indeed, in the not so distant past, mental health still held a huge stigma, and those who were suffering from mental health conditions found themselves segregated in asylums or cast out of society.

Thankfully, times are changing, and in the last decade understanding around mental health has come leaps and bounds. Psychological conditions entering the spotlight has helped to open the conversation and make it clear that we all have mental health problems at some point in our lives. This is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

Now the world is reacting to mental health in a way that is more attuned to helping individuals than ever before. Indeed, today it is far more common for someone to have received therapy, with some sources stating that British people are now heading to therapy sessions in record numbers.

We have all recently experienced a huge shake up of our lives, and this too has impacted mental health for professionals and patients alike. So, what can we do to focus on mental health for staff, patients and ourselves?

The impact of Covid-19
It is safe to assume that the ongoing pandemic and stringent lockdown measures that were introduced for much of 2020 have had a big impact on mental health. In many ways this has made sense – families have been forced to spend time apart, people have lost their routines by being away from school or work, and the whole world has felt on high alert.

This has caused immeasurable strain on a number of individuals that has manifested in different ways. For example, one particularly concerning outcome of the pandemic has been an increase in detrimental habits such as comfort eating, casual drug use and alcoholism. Drinking, in particular, has been highly documented throughout the lockdown period, with higher numbers of individuals being admitted to hospital for liver-based complaints as a direct result.

On the surface these behaviours are damaging enough, but it is the mental strain behind them which is perhaps most worrying of all. People are using these behaviours as coping mechanisms in order to try and relax, de-stress and overcome the situation, in turn doing their oral health and general health potentially significant harm.

Indeed, one account from BBC News reveals how the virus outbreak led one man to alcoholism, and also caused depression and anxiety – conditions that he previously hadn’t suffered from.

Of course, we cannot discount the added strains on mental health experienced by dental professionals. It’s been a trying time – the inability to open practices and provide care, heavy restrictions upon reopening and continued changes to guidance and best practice protocols have meant that all dental professionals are feeling the strain in some way. It’s likely that this is having a significant effect on our mental health, especially as psychological conditions are already prevalent in the industry, usually manifesting as excess stress, anxiety, burnout and depression.

As professionals, we need to think about mental health and put forward solutions that can help overcome these extra challenges.

Implementing solutions
Arguably, prioritising the mental health of your team is the most important first step. Although we must all chip in together to overcome new challenges, it’s still important to keep feelings on the table and to ensure that all voices are heard.

Regular team meetings are an excellent way to help overcome feelings of stress and burnout. Not only do these talks give people the opportunity to ensure they are all on the same page, but they can also act as a forum to discuss how they are feeling and for shared solutions to be found. Team members getting overly stressed and depressed is likely to lead to an unpleasant atmosphere for patients, mistakes being made and, essentially, poor quality of life for the individual affected. Finding a solution is key.

For patients, it’s just as good an idea to have candid talks about mental health, especially if a patient is showing signs of excess drinking or other stress-related habits. Speak to them openly and discuss the health consequences. There is a good opportunity to provide extra resources and see if these can help people cope better during these times.

It’s also essential to remind patients about all the safety measures in place to generally reassure them and avoid further decline of their mental health. Emails, updates on social media and even text messages are good ways to show patients that it’s safe to visit.

A new way
In the end, mental health is a fragile and complex part of all of us, and something that we are still learning about. The focus should be on ensuring that communication and support is available for all. By giving people the help they need to recover from whatever mental impact the pandemic has caused, they can concentrate on adopting the new normal.

References available on request.