On maintaining mental health, 'nothing wrong with getting help’ | American Dental Association

On maintaining mental health, 'nothing wrong with getting help’

New dentist shares experience, advice on managing anxiety, depression

Muscatine, Iowa — Anxiety and depression are no strangers to Jarod Johnson, D.D.S.

“I’ve managed those issues before in my life,” he said.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic began, they came creeping back.

“Adapting to practicing in this new environment has been tough on me, the staff and patients,” said Dr. Johnson, who owns a pediatric practice. “I started to not enjoy being both at work and being at home with my family.”

Then one day, while inspecting a young patient’s mouth, he realized his hands were uncontrollably shaking. 

Photo of Dr. Johnson
Dr. Johnson

“I knew at that point I needed to get some help,” Dr. Johnson said. “I went back to my office and immediately made a call.”

According to the ADA’s newly released 2021 Dentist Health and Well-Being Survey Report, the percent of dentists diagnosed with anxiety more than tripled — from 5% to 16% — in 2021 compared to 2003, exacerbated by pandemic-related burdens to dentists and staff members. The report also found dentists younger than 40 years old were more likely to score higher on the depression risk assessment questions than older dentists.

Dr. Johnson’s phone call was to schedule an appointment to see a psychiatrist, who ultimately recommended for him to start taking medication — an antidepressant and a beta blocker — and to begin seeing a therapist.

“There was instant relief from knowing that I was getting the help I needed,” he said. “It took a few more months to start feeling like my old self.”

Through therapy, Dr. Johnson was able to understand the environmental triggers and causes of his anxiety and depression, which all pointed to the pandemic.

“We’ve had some staffing issues that has been very difficult to manage,” he said. “Some parents of my patients have not been the kindest in the way they treat me. It was a variety of things that ultimately just took its toll.”

Dr. Johnson said he encourages other dentists, especially those experiencing elevated stresses at work and at home, to seek mental health support. 

“I just don’t want anyone else to go through what I went through,” he said. “Anxiety and depression are very common, and there’s nothing wrong with getting help.”

And getting that help, he said, is as easy as picking up your phone and downloading any of the online counseling apps, such as Doctor on Demand and Talkspace. The ADA Council on Dental Practice also offers the State Well-Being Program Directory, which provides peer assistance with dentists available to help each other with personal challenges. 

Based on his experience, Dr. Johnson added that he would recommend others to reach out first to a psychiatrist, who can make tailored recommendations. Some may only recommend therapy or, like him, a combination of therapy and medication.

“Today, I feel great,” he said. “I love going to work. I love spending time with my wife and kids. It’s the happiest that I’ve been.”