Home Well-BeingMental Wellness Treating the Pain Behind the Smiles

Treating the Pain Behind the Smiles

by Frank King

Well, I have good news, and I have bad news.

The good news is, contrary to popular belief, dentists do not have the highest rate of suicide of any occupation. That dubious distinction belongs to the construction industry. The bad news is, dentists are in the top 10 of at risk occupations overall, pretty much any way you calculate it, and in the top three white collar occupations, with physicians and veterinarians (female dentists and veterinarians have a higher suicide rate than their male counterparts).

If you are a dentist or a team member you are probably well aware of the reasons that this is the case. There’s the financial stress (four out of five dentists come out of dental school with roughly $350,000 in student loan debt), which leads to unaddressed physical stress, as the dentist and team are often coming in early, often working through lunch, and staying late, meaning probably no one is hitting the gym to work off some of that stress, nor, chances are, are they eating a healthy lunch, and using the balance of the time to decompress, which leads to mental stress.

Are you beginning to see a pattern? The number one killer of dental folk is not suicide, its stress induced and/or exacerbated mental and physical illnesses, high blood pressure, heart disease, as well as drug abuse, alcoholism, depression and thoughts of suicide.

At this point you may be wondering, if you know that I’m the Mental Health Comedian, how is it that a comedian is talking about depression and thoughts of suicide? Depression and suicide run in my family. It’s called Generational Depression and Suicide. My grandmother died by suicide, my mother found her, my great aunt died by suicide, my mother and I found her, I was four years old. I’ll spare you the awful details, but if you’d like the whole story, I cover it in the first of my five TEDx Talks on mental illness (https://youtu.be/aBUXND5BD4M). I myself have come close enough to dying by suicide, that I can tell you what the barrel of my gun tastes like. Spoiler alert, I did not pull the trigger.

And, I have two mental illnesses, major depressive disorder, and chronic suicidal ideation. For me, and those in my tribe, with chronic suicidal ideation, suicide is always on the menu, as a solution for problems, large and small. And when I say small, a couple of years ago, my car broke down, and I had three thoughts, unbidden, get it fixed, buy a new one, or I could just kill myself.

I know that sounds absurd, but almost every time I keynote on suicide prevention, someone, sometimes more than one someone, comes up to me afterword, and they have chronic suicidal ideation (someone reading this may have just realized that’s what they have), they didn’t know that it has a name, and they just thought they were some kind of freak, and their relief at realizing for the first time in their life that they are not alone is palpable. And hopefully that will be enough to steer them just far enough off the path to suicide that they will live a relatively normal life. Often you hear people say that you have to “find your why” for what it is that you do. That is my why.

So why write this column? Even though every year in the United States 47,000 people die by suicide (and that does not include the 65,000 opioid deaths), roughly one every eleven minutes, hardly anyone talks about it. The good news is, the mere mention of the words depression and suicide elicits the most amazing stories, from almost everyone I meet. My job is simply to start the conversation on suicide. And now I have some help doing just that, and so do dental practices that want to stem the tide in their profession.

On October 19th, 2019, World Mental Health Day, the American Association of Suicidology (AAS), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and United Suicide Survivors International (United Survivors), announced their collaboration and release of the first ‘National Guidelines for Workplace Suicide Prevention.’ These Guidelines – built by listening to the expertise of diverse groups like HR, employment law, employee assistance professionals, labor and safety leaders, and many people who had experienced a suicide crisis while they were employed – will help employers and workplaces become proactively involved in suicide prevention in the workplace.

Employers ready to become vocal, visible and visionary and who are ready to take the pledge to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority should visit WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com.

“Our collaborative partners envision a world where workplaces and professional associations join in the global suicide prevention effort by building and sustaining comprehensive strategies embedded within their health and safety priorities,” said Sally Spencer-Thomas, Psy.D., and President of United Suicide Survivors International and Co-Chair for the Workplace Committee of the American Association of Suicidology. “Across the United States, workplaces are taking a closer look at mental health promotion and suicide prevention, shifting their role and perspective on suicide from ‘not our business,’ to a mindset that says, ‘we can do better.’ We hope this ground-breaking effort helps provide the inspiration and the roadmap to move workplaces and the organizations that support them from inactive bystanders to bold leaders.”

“We believe that by taking the pledge and adopting these new guidelines, we can be a force for elevating the national conversation about suicide — and for how to build strategies in the workplace to prevent the pain caused by suicide and suicidal behavior.”

Are you ready to go from inactive bystander to bold leader? Are you ready to become a force for elevating the conversation in the dental community on how to implement strategies in the workplace to prevent the pain behind the smiles?

Then take the pledge.

The guidelines, designed to be cross-cutting through private and public sectors, large and small employers, and all industries will:

1. Give employers and professional associations an opportunity to pledge to engage in the effort of suicide prevention. Sign the pledge here: www.WorkplaceSuicidePrevention.com

2. Demonstrate an implementation structure for workplace best practices in a comprehensive, public health approach.

3. Provide data and resources to advance the cause of workplace suicide prevention.

4. Bring together diverse stakeholders in a collaborative public-private model.

5. Make recommendations for easily deployed tools, trainings and resources for both short-term action and comprehensive and sustained strategy.

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