A question of despair
Not long ago I was asked whether, if I could go back, I would do anything differently in my career and whether, knowing what I know now, I would perhaps even have followed a different career path entirely. Did I ever want to give up, run away, and start a whole new professional life?
I think everyone has moments of questioning the choices they’ve made, whether professionally or personally. I believe humans are hard-wired to wonder ‘what if?’.
To a degree it’s what drives us forward as a species and allows us to achieve, collectively and individually. What struck me about this particular person though was the despair behind the question. They weren’t really asking me, they were asking themselves – a troubling rhetorical question camouflaged within an innocent conversation.
What made it even worse for this person was that their career was vocational. They have gone through years of education and training, professional exams and development. They have built a career from childhood and, here they were, questioning everything, questioning pretty much their entire life.
This person is not a dentist, but they were expressing thoughts and doubts that are becoming increasingly common in the dental world. More and more I hear people questioning their vocation or beginning to
feel buried by the career they have worked so hard for.
The reasons for this are, of course, complex and multifactorial. They will vary from individual to individual, but it seems fair to say that the dental world has never been under such pressure, a perfect storm of social, political, ethical, legal and financial issues meaning that, for some, it can all simply become too much.
But what can we do? Well, the first step is perhaps to learn to recognise the warning signs of someone in crisis – whether this is in our colleagues, or in ourselves. It is also important to know what support is available.
Dental professionals can often work in isolation, and it is hard to know who to turn to in times of difficulty. At Ireland’s Dental magazine we can’t solve the problem, but we believe we can do something to help. Starting in this issue, and then in successive magazines, we will be investigating the theme of mental health and wellbeing, speaking to experts from many different professions and walks of life, and exploring the support available for the dental professional in crisis.
In my previous editorial I wrote that however bleak things may appear, dentistry remains full of wonderful people who are dedicated to advancing the profession, providing incredible patient care and finding ways to triumph over adversity.
I believe with all my heart that this is true, and the vast majority of people working in the profession will, thankfully, never experience the extremes of doubt and negativity that some have to face.
However, with more and more young people entering dentistry already expressing worries about the pressures they might face and questioning their ability to deal with them, surely it is incumbent on all to work together to support our friends and colleagues. And, as issues with mental health and wellbeing are not limited to dentistry, looking outside to see what dentistry can learn from other professions, and what it can teach them.
After all, I have to ask myself what would I have answered to my friend’s question, if it hadn’t been rhetorical? What would you?
Sarah Allen is editor of Ireland’s Dental magazine. To contact Sarah, email firstname.lastname@example.org