How to handle mental health issues in the dental practice

Mental health can be a difficult topic to discuss, but doing so may save a coworker's life.

People often don’t like to talk about mental health. It’s personal, sometimes carries a negative stigma and can lead to gossip. But what happens when you’re at work and you encounter a colleague who’s dealing with a real mental health issue? What are you to do?

If your practice has never thought about how to handle mental health, now is the time. One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological issues at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organization.

Trending article: #MeToo in the dental practice

Have you ever witnessed a friend slump into a sad state after getting dumped? Or what about a coworker losing interest in his or her job activities and patient interactions after the death of a loved one? Depression has a variety of causes and manifests itself in many forms. It can affect one’s ability to function at work and engage in social interactions. Common symptoms include:

  • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness and anxiousness

  • Increased irritability

  • Becoming easily fatigued or lacking energy

  • Having difficulty thinking and concentrating

  • Changes in appetite and sleep schedule

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you’ve noticed these symptoms in a coworker, what should you do? Most people don’t want to get involved in someone else’s personal life, but it could be up to you to realize that this individual may be in real trouble.

If you think a coworker may be experiencing mental health issues, you can take the following actions:

  • Ask your coworker how he or she has been feeling

  • Talk to your boss and share your concerns

  • Recommend your coworker visits a counselor

  • Speak with your coworker’s friends or family to voice your concerns

  • Ask if he or she has had any suicidal or harmful thoughts

If it turns out that your coworker is in a bad place and experiencing harmful or suicidal thoughts, it’s time to take immediate action:

  • Call your coworker’s family or spouse/significant other

  • Don’t leave your coworker alone

  • Call a suicide hotline

  • Take your coworker to an emergency room

  • Call security or the police if your coworker refuses to stay with you

More from the author: The secret to great customer service

While you have the best intentions at heart, keep in mind that your coworker may become hostile and escalate the situation. Just remember that you care enough about this person to be doing the right thing, and the right thing is getting him or her help when he or she can’t help himself or herself. I’ve been there, and it’s a terrible feeling, but knowing that I saved a life and got someone help when they really needed it gave me some comfort. You must care enough about this person to let them hate you. I lost a friend, but I’ve made peace with that situation and I would do it all over again. Why? Because I may have saved her life.

Don’t bury your head in the sand if you notice there’s a problem at your practice. Talking to your supervisor or boss and then taking action is crucial and may ultimately lead to saving someone’s life.

Have you had any experiences where you were concerned about your colleague? What did you do? Email me at and fill me in.