Stress, Work Balance and Mental Health
'Stress' is very individually defined; just the right amount is healthy and energizing. Too little and we can feel bored and unmotivated. A short period of intense stress is expected with events like a wedding, the birth of a baby, or a move to a new office. Too much stress for too long can make us demoralized, exhausted, and ill.
Stress, work-life balance, and mental health are all closely related.
The American Psychological Association offers a number of resources on stress and stress management. See www.apa.org.
We learned some very interesting things about the work and family lives of dentists in the 2003 Dentist Well-Being Survey (Published January 2005). Here are some highlights:
- Dentists in general are healthy, get regular exercise, and adequate hours of sleep.
- A little more than 10 percent of respondents reported that they feel ‘very stressed.’
- Feeling in control of the work environment is strongly correlated to work satisfaction, and vice versa.
- Levels of career satisfaction are strong across all the groups surveyed, but highest in male dentists over the age of 40 who are practice owners.
- About a third of female dentists report experiencing harassment in the dental environment.
- Women in dentistry are more likely than men to think they work too much at home.
- Home stress levels increase with an increased number of caretaking (i.e., of children or elders) hours.
- Two-thirds of dentists are involved in weekly religious activities.
- About a quarter of the respondents may have some issues with depression, and one in five has some symptoms of alcohol abuse.
The report of the 2003 Dentist Well-Being Survey is available through the ADA Catalog. This is the first scientific survey of its scope among dentists.
- The survey sample had equal numbers of men, women, young and seasoned dentists, and examines work-life issues, family history, stress management practices, career satisfaction, and prevalence of addictive and other mental health disorders.
- The cost is $40 for ADA members, $60 for non-members, and $120 for commercial firms.
Dentistry, depending on the practice setting, offers the opportunity for exceptional work-life balance. The average work week of dentists in private practice is just under 40 hours, and dentists in private practice have a high degree of control over their work hours.
It’s not always as simple as it sounds, though.
- New dentists may find themselves working undesirable hours, or stringing together two or more part-time jobs as they get established.
- The early years of practice-building are often also the years when families are begun.
- Dentists who are parents of school-aged children and teenagers will find themselves juggling multiple demands on their time, and this is even truer for dentists who are members of two-career couples or who are single parents.
- Looking after the needs of aging parents can be challenging on multiple levels, and disruptive when crises occur.
Below are some resources related to work-life balance.
Contrary to urban legend and conventional wisdom, dentists do NOT seem to experience more mental health problems than other groups. Natural disasters have shown us that dentists as a group are resilient and resourceful. But because they’re human beings, some dentists—at about the same prevalence as the general population—experience mental health disorders. The most common of these are anxiety disorders and depression.
- JADA Article: Safeguarding the Health of Dental Professionals
- Some sample screening tools for common mental disorders can be found at www.mentalhealthscreening.org.
Despite strong and exciting research in the neurobiological basis of psychiatric illnesses, stigma is deep-rooted. Read about new findings and how to confront stigma at these websites:
Private practice dentistry, which is 85 percent of dentistry in this country, is really two careers in one; clinical practice and business management. These two careers take different skills. Few things are more stressful than doing work for which we’re not temperamentally suited—or that we just don’t like. Some dentists find themselves in this position.
- The Council on Access, Prevention and Interprofessional Relations (CAPIR) offers the Alternate Dental Careers packet for dentists looking at careers outside of private practice. Contact Sharon Muraoka at 312-440-2861 or ext. 2861at the member toll-free number.
- Some dentists have found working with a personal coach to be a good and helpful experience, and there are a few coaches who work specifically with dentists and are very familiar with the issues. See www.mentors.ca/coaching.html for more information about this process.