diagnosis, but most see a health-care professional within a year of their attempt and a
recent study found that 40% have a health-care visit within a week prior to their suicide
attempt. While dental professionals are not
mandated to take suicide prevention training
in the state at this time, it is required for college and university faculty.
We’re not social workers or counselors.
We’re not equipped to fix a broken life. But
we can lend a hand and perhaps offer a
measure of compassion or point a friend or
colleague to a resource that can provide
positive direction. Two good places to start
are the National Alliance of Mental Illness
( nami.org) and Mental Health America
( mentalhealthamerica.net). Both groups
offer extensive information about common
warning signs of mental health issues, as
well as advice on where and how to seek
help. MHA has online screening tools that
can help determine the risk for mental
One never knows the impact our words
or actions will have on another human being. Clearly, Jenny wanted to warn other
dental hygienists to take care of their bodies.
She asked me to deliver her message. Even
if you dread the inevitable conversation or
phone call that recounts the latest event, if
you, one of your friends, or a family member
are suffering, please reach out.
Mental illness is not a crime; it is a
1. Any mental illness (AMI) among adults. National
Institute of Mental Health. National Institutes of Health
website. U.S. Department of Health and Human
shtml. Accessed October 23, 2015.
2. Serious mental illness (SMI) among U.S. Adults.
National Institute of Mental Health. National Institutes of
Health website. U.S. Department of Health and Human
shtml. Accessed October 23, 2015.
3. Colton CW, Manderscheid RW. Congruencies in
increased mortality rates, years of potential life lost,
and causes of death among public mental health
clients in eight states. Preventing Chronic Disease.
2006; 3( 2):A42. https://www.ncbi.nlm.ni
cles/PMC1563985/. Accessed January 16, 2015.
4. Suicide facts at a glance 2015. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violen-ceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.pdf. Accessed
October 23, 2015.
dentist, who was forced to quit practice because of unbearable neck pain. After he left
the practice, she never took the time to just
say hello or see how he was doing. This real-ization struck her deeply, and she called her
former employer and apologized for abandoning him.
Eight years ago, she started an Internet
group called Hygienists’ Hands. She wanted
to create a safe, nonjudgmental space where
dental professionals could share information about treatments, symptoms, and
coping with daily life. Members share strategies on how to file a workers’ compensation
claim, strategies to use when applying for
social security disability, and ways to deal
with pain and discomfort. They openly discuss frustration, depression, feeling powerless, or judged by others.
It is common to read, “All I tried to do was
take care of patients as best as I could. Now
I am being treated like I did something wrong.”
The emotions in the group run high. Participants express anger, denial, grief, loss, and
joy when a colleague reports a victory of any
kind. This group has provided amazing support and collective wisdom to countless
members. Apparently, Jenny was a member
of Hygienists’ Hands, but like some, she saw
the conversations but never shared her
thoughts with others in the group.
Many of us have friends, family members,
and coworkers who struggle with numerous
mental health issues. The short list includes
depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive
behaviors, bipolar disorder, and post-trau-matic stress disorder (PTSD)—situations that
cause inexplicable disruptions in one’s personal life and to those close by. Over time, it
can become easier and easier to turn a blind
eye or deaf ear to the chaos.
The statistics are staggering—one out of
five adults in the United States experiences
mental illness in a given year.
1 Four percent
of the adult population has a serious mental
illness that substantially interferes with, or
limits, one or more major life activities.
2 Individuals living with serious mental illness face
an increased risk of having chronic medical
3 Suicide is the 10th leading cause
of death in the United States.
Washington State has taken an active po-
sition on mental health issues. The state
website states that less than 50% of those
who attempt suicide have a mental health
precious possession is a heathy body, and
it’s hard to provide care when our bodies
are screaming in pain. Sadly, there are
dental professionals who have never real-
ized or acknowledged the toll clinical
practice can take on our bodies. Others
clearly understand, but for one reason or
another are reluctant to act to combat or
reverse the physical demands.
Injured hygienists often pose the question: “ Why didn’t my dental hygiene program
tell me about the risks?” For starters, the risk
for injuries was not recognized until the last
couple of decades. Injured workers just faded
away. The academic community has begun
to make changes in our education over the
last 15 years. Publications such as RDH have
devoted much space to articles about preventing needless musculoskeletal issues,
and online forums are loaded with discussions every day. But the reality is, there are
way too many hygienists experiencing physical and emotional pain. A lot of work still
needs to be done.
Chronic pain is deceptive. The impact is
cumulative over time. It gets old. Unless you
live in that world, people around those suffering from chronic pain can become numb
to the conversation. Imagine being told over
and over that your symptoms are all in your
head, when you know internally that something is wrong. Chronic pain fuels depression, anxiety, anger, and fear.
Colene House, RDH, has gone down this
pathway. After years of increasing hand pain
and several surgeries, she finally retired from
clinical practice due to carpometacarpal
(CMC) arthritis. She was angry and frustrated. She felt like her body had betrayed her.
After 41 years of service, she had ceased to
be a valued team member. Her income was
gone, her professional social identity altered.
The worker’s compensation process was
draining and rather than living with constant
stress every day, she finally agreed to a
Colene felt like an outcast, lonely and isolated. She never heard from her former teammates, people she had worked with for years.
As her life continued to morph, she realized
that she, too, had neglected another dental
professional who had been sidelined. Years
earlier, she had worked with a very talented