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Updated: Aug 22, 2022

As with physical healthcare, it's time for dental healthcare to include mental health as part of the overall, holistic approach to patient care. Understanding how to identify and speak with a patient struggling with mental health is part of being a LifeGuard.

patient mental health

According to the National Institute on Mental Health, more than 17-million (or nearly 7%) American adults experience at least one major depressive episode in a given year. Numerous studies have shown that the rates of depression rise when a person is dealing with a chronic condition or is a hospital patient.

The prevalence of major depressive episodes among U.S. adolescents has steadily increased since 2020.

  • An estimated 4.1 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 17.0% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17.

  • The prevalence of major depressive episodes was higher among adolescent females (25.2%) compared to males (9.2%).

  • The prevalence of major depressive episodes was highest among adolescents reporting two or more races (29.9%).

Monitoring your patients and identifying possible signs of depression is critical for their overall health. Depression can often cause people to pay less attention to their health, leading to a higher risk of chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease.


It can be hard for a patient to talk to a medical professional about their depression or their concerns about their current emotional state. Often times they may feel embarrassed or isolated. As a LifeGuard, it's your responsibility to develop a relationship and create a safe space where a patient can open up about any and all medical concerns...including concerns around their mental state.

During the course of your conversation, listen for clues as to what the mental state of your patient is currently. Listen for keys that will indicate that there have been behavioral or major life changes or for symptoms:

  • Persistent sad or anxious mood

  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or worthlessness

  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities

  • Decreased energy

  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions

  • Changes in sleep pattern, such as sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia

  • Appetite or weight changes

  • Pain, headaches, or digestive problems without a clear cause

  • Thoughts of suicide


Encourage the depressed person to talk about their feelings, and be willing to listen without judgment. Don't expect a single conversation to be the end of it. Depressed people tend to withdraw from others and isolate themselves. You may need to express your concern and willingness to listen over and over again.

Approach the conversation in a nonjudgmental way and with empathy. Practice using "I" statements such as "I'm concerned" or "I've noticed." Avoid saying things such as "You don't seem like yourself," as that can create defensiveness in the patient receiving the message.

Recognize that supporting your patient does not mean fixing their problems. A person with depression often needs treatment to see improvement — and that’s something only a medical professional can provide. Offer to help find them the medical support they need.


The LifeGuard Approach™ believes that it's time for dental hygienists and other dental professionals to change their mindset when it comes to patient health. It's time to become active LifeGuards in both the overall proactive and preventative medical treatments for our patients.

Follow us on social media, sign-up for our newsletter, and check out our Resource Library to stay connected and learn how to hone your skills as a LifeGuard.


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