A big thank you goes out to the Thunder Bay Dental Hygienist’s Society (TBDHS) for inviting me to present the Collateral Damage Project at their regular meeting on May 16. 

I was contacted a few months ago by Eva at TBDHS and she asked me if I could talk about “what do we say to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide?” “What should we say”, “what shouldn’t we say?” These were great and very real questions because I remember when I had to get my teeth cleaned for the first time after my father died. My dentist and all the staff knew my father. They essentially had to process their own grief never mind being concerned to “say the wrong thing” to me.

My talk was an overview of the Collateral Damage Project and I shared many stories of those that I have received in getting the message across that it’s more about listening than it is talking, or knowing what to say. Perhaps a better way of looking at it is knowing how to listen and not avoid. I believe that to truly listen to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, we need to evaluate our own personal beliefs, stigmas and myths in regards to suicide. Much of our knowledge on suicide comes from the tools that our parents gave us and that statement alone should give us reason for reflection.

Creating an open dialogue in a dentist’s office can start with brochures and other suicide prevention and awareness material in the waiting room. This sends a message that it’s OK to talk about it. If your dental office does fundraisers within the office, support suicide prevention in your community at least once a year. This tells me that you understand that suicide can be prevented. I also suggested, as always, that all staff should take SafeTALK.

The interesting and perhaps challenging part for Dental Hygienists is that I just mentioned that it’s most important to “listen.” However, we all know that when we are getting our teeth cleaned that we are usually not doing much of the talking. In the end it all comes down to caring. When we care, we won’t avoid. We’ll make sure that we create eye contact and that we don’t avoid the awkward moments when were not sure of what to say.

Thank you again to the Thunder Bay Dental Hygienists’ Society for inviting me to share my story and the work of the Collateral Damage Project. Please share your comments below to let me know what you thought of my presentation.

Not Talking About It Isn’t Working.


2 thoughts on “Thunder Bay Dental Hygienists’ Society

  1. Excellent presentation! When i lost my parents to cancer, i felt a little slighted when people didn’t at least say sorry, or make some acknowledgement of the fact that i had just had a major loss in my life. When someone loses someone in their life to suicide they have the same feelings, we shouldn’t ignore their pain either. Thanks so much to Scott for sharing his personal story.

    • Scott I just wanted to say what an excellent presentation. That same night I came home and was speaking to a friend (also ni health care) about the presentation. I mentioned to her what it was about and she responded with a story about a patient opening up and mentioning thoughts of suicide. My friend had no idea how to talk to her patient or even what avenue to send the patient to get help. I gave my friend the collateral damage website that night. She was excited about more info to give to patients, if this situation arised again. It is exactly what you said, all we have to do is start talking about it.
      Thank you again for an amazing presentation and sharing your story.

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