Almodovar is a pseudonym for a dentist in general practice somewhere
in the UK, who wishes to retain anonymity due to the sensitive nature of
this blog.
4 minutes reading time (836 words)

Depression in Dentistry - The biggest step

The biggest step
I finished out that week pondering on my therapy session and the work stresses. My wife, ever the paragon of being right, shied away from the blunt “I told you so” but did make it clear that I should be taking it easier. I asked the PM to block out some time where cancellations had arisen so that I would have a little breathing space, with the proviso that I would of course see any emergencies in those gaps if necessary. I did at this point advise the PM that I was having some issues with stress and needed to cut back a bit (master of understatement here!), and would be looking to book some time off when the books were quieter – about 4 weeks into the future.

I was by now quite aware of the mask I was wearing at work, and of the times when it would slip. I was concerned that it could create problems for the staff directly and put them in an awkward position if my behaviour impacted on a patient. I had seen this happen before when a colleague had suffered from depression, and their extended absences had been explained away at the time as a back injury – a number of patients refused to believe it and some even hassled the staff with questions such as “it’s the drink isn’t it?”.

This led me to discuss the most difficult step in dealing with depression with both my wife and my therapist – that of telling my workmates and staff. It’s one thing to admit to oneself that you need help, another entirely to admit it to others. It’s natural to want to hide our weaknesses from others, even those closest to us, but you can’t expect to get support without laying a decent foundation. My wife was concerned, as was I, that such a disclosure could leak to the patients and potentially put them off seeing me. My therapist countered with the argument that if I didn’t have support in my recovery, I potentially wouldn’t be in a position to see patients anyway. I couldn’t argue with that logic, particularly being a Star Trek fan, so I decided to tell everyone at work and hope for the best.

Except – I couldn’t actually bring myself to tell them face to face. Every time I looked at my nurse, my colleagues and thought of saying what I was going through I felt I may cry. I chickened out and put it in writing, asking the PM to read it to everyone at the staff meeting that week as I wouldn’t be present. The PM graciously agreed, following a short but teary chat at the end of the day.

Below is a copy of the letter. I know this may identify me to any of my colleagues who lurk on GDPUK, but their response to the letter at the time assured me that I can trust them to maintain my anonymity.

Dear All,

You may have noticed that I have not been myself over the last couple of weeks, and if my behaviour has seemed rude then I apologise.

I am suffering from acute anxiety & stress at present, brought on by a number of factors – don’t worry, you lot aren’t one of them!

I am having treatment and counselling to help me through this time.

It is very hard for me to express how I’m feeling, and putting on a friendly face for the patients is an incredible struggle which drains me thoroughly.

In this regard, I must apologise specifically to [my nurse] as she has to work with me all day and it must be confusing to see me chat to the patients and then barely speak to her. I am truly sorry for this [my nurse].

I wanted to tell you this in person, but honestly do not feel I could keep my emotions in check if you were all sat in front of me, and no-one wants to see a grown man cry – least of all me!

Currently the only thing getting me through the door is my desire to provide the best care I can to my patients, but if I feel that I can no longer do that I will take a leave of absence until such time as I feel able to return. I do not intend to cause problems for you or the patients by cancelling days at the last minute, as this is not fair on anyone.

I would ask that if you have any concerns about my behaviour, especially in regard to treating patients, that you bring them to [the PM] ASAP. It is difficult for the person suffering stress to see their own behaviour clearly & objectively, but others may notice problems quickly.

I hope I will have your support through this time. I truly appreciate the work you all do and the efforts you make in running the practice.
Thank you.



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