Tackling suicide head on
World Suicide Prevention Day (10th September), aims to raise awareness and help those who may be struggling to find a way out. As stress and depression can precede suicidal thoughts, it’s important that we all know how to help colleagues who may be at risk.
Dentistry is very much a people industry. It’s all about caring for patients and promoting good dental and general wellbeing. However, it is also widely acknowledged to be a stressful occupation. As such, it’s important to look out for your colleagues just as much as you look out for patients.
Stress and depression
Psychological stress can be separated into two general groups. One is acute and the other is chronic stress. The type of stress experienced often depends on the duration of symptoms.[i] Both types of stress can lead to increased levels of the hormone cortisol and reduced amounts of serotonin and dopamine. This chemical imbalance is a risk factor for depression.[ii]
Depression is one of the most common psychiatric disorders among those who take their own lives.
Suicide is the 15th leading cause of death around the globe. As a result, it is responsible for over 800,000 deaths a year – that’s one every 40 seconds.[iii] In 2017, more than 6,200 people died of suicide in the UK and Ireland alone. Men in the same locations are three and four times more likely to take their own lives than women.[iv] Sadly, that’s not even the whole story as for every one suicide, there are 25 attempts.
With elevated levels of stress associated with dentistry, suicide is unfortunately not unheard of. In fact, studies show a high rate of suicide among dentists compared to both other professions and the general public.[v]In addition, female healthcare professionals in England have a 24% higher risk of taking their own lives than the national female average.[vi]
It can be very difficult to spot the signs of someone at the point of considering suicide. However, there are some symptoms you can look out for in those people around you:[vii]
- Feeling low or depressed, withdrawn or anxious
- Loss of interest in hobbies, work, socialising or appearance
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness or purposelessness
- Impulsive or reckless actions and not caring about the outcome
- Giving away of processions or suddenly sorting out affairs like making a will
- Excessive talk about death, suicide or dying
- Evidence of self-harming
Clearly, these are quite vague signs, but noticing them could make a huge difference to the person affected. The simple act of showing them kindness at work can help. Perhaps meet them after work to have a chat. Or invite them to your family BBQ at the weekend? With an association between suicide and loneliness,[viii] just making someone feel less alone could do wonders.
At the end of the day, dentistry can be a stressful profession. With stress, depression and risk of suicide interlinked, it’s crucial that we do what we can to keep friends and colleagues out of harm’s way.
[i] Yang L, Zhao Y, Wang Y, et al. The Effects of Psychological Stress on Depression. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2015;13(4):494–504. doi:10.2174/1570159X1304150831150507
[ii] Qin DD, Rizak J, Feng XL, Yang SC, Lu LB, Pan L, Yin Y, Hu XT. Prolonged secretion of cortisol as a possible mechanism underlying stress and depressive behaviour. Qin DD, Rizak J, Feng XL, et al. Prolonged secretion of cortisol as a possible mechanism underlying stress and depressive behaviour. Sci Rep. 2016;6:30187. Published 2016 Jul 22. doi:10.1038/srep30187
[iii] WHO. World Suicide Prevention Day #WSPD. Facts and Figures. [Accessed August 2019]
[iv] Samaritans. Our policy and research. Suicide facts and figures. [Accessed August 2019]
[v] Moreno, Federico & Navarro Ruiz, Cira. (2010). Risk of suicide amongst dentists: Myth or reality?. International dental journal. 60. 411-8. 10.1922/IDJ_2575Sancho08.
[viii] Stravynski A, Boyer R. Loneliness in relation to suicide ideation and parasuicide: a population-wide study. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2001;31(1):32-40