Our office receives numerous calls from dentists experiencing anxiety and/or panic attacks wanting to know whether they can file a disability claim under their policies, and asking us to evaluate the likelihood of success if they do file. The short (but admittedly not that satisfying) answer is, it depends. These types of disability claims are particularly tricky and complex on many levels, and each claim must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. That being said, anxiety and panic disorders are one of the primary reasons our dentist clients file claims, and it is possible to collect for these types of conditions, if you have the right policy, and the claim is handled correctly.
Because we get asked these questions a lot, we thought we’d spend some time in the next few posts discussing some of the factors dentists should consider when facing an anxiety diagnosis and deciding whether to stop practicing. We’ll also be covering some of the disability policy provisions that could impact your chances to collect benefits if you are a dentist with anxiety who thinks that you need to file a disability claim.
But before we get to all of that, we thought it would be helpful for us to share some of the commonalities we have noticed among our dentist clients who have had anxiety, as we know that there are a lot of dentists who experience stress at work, but aren’t sure how to know when it’s reached the point where they should be considering filing for disability.
Now, obviously, we are not qualified to offer diagnoses or healthcare advice, and it is important that you consult with a licensed mental healthcare provider to determine whether or not you have a mental health condition, and whether you should be treating with talk therapy, medications or some other method of treatment. But what we can comment on is common traits and reported symptoms that we have observed as we have successful handled disability claims for dentists based upon anxiety and panic disorders.
In our experience, we have noticed that (not always, but often) dentists prone to anxiety tend to have common personality traits that, in the past, have contributed to both their educational and career success, but can also make them more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, including:
• Perfectionism/being detail-oriented.
• Relentless work ethic.
• Fear of disappointing or upsetting others.
• Taking criticism from others personally/being particularly hard on themselves if they make a mistake.
• Concern about patients’ comfort (these dentists are often known for being gentle, kind, and patient).
We’ve also noticed that several of our clients have had common experiences as their anxiety developed and progressed, including:
• Fear of misdiagnosis, making mistakes, hurting or upsetting patients, and/or working with anxious patients.
• Stress over taking too long to do procedures (thus prolonging patients’ discomfort, inconveniencing other dentists who have to step in and take on additional work, etc.).
• Isolating themselves before appointments or before going to work, in order to try and get a handle on panic symptoms and/or “psych themselves up” to work on patients.
• Pressure to stay on a tight schedule and work within rigid time restraints, to maximize productivity.
• Frustration dealing with insurance and other administrative duties.
• Becoming conflict-avoidant, frequently turning to others to deal with difficult patients and antagonistic personalities.
• Pressure to pay off student loans and other debt/worrying about what will happen financially if they stop practicing dentistry.
As you might imagine, over time, these things tend to build up and increase anxiety, and this is a difficult cycle to break out of, without professional help and (potentially) time away from practicing dentistry. Many of our clients feel much better once they’re able to avoid the office but, again, this is a big decision that you should not make lightly, without reviewing your policy, meeting with a licensed mental healthcare professional, and talking to an experienced disability insurance attorney.
In our next post we will look at what provisions should look for to determine whether your policy allows you to file a claim for mental health reasons and/or whether your policy contains any limitations that might affect a mental health claim.
Information offered purely for general informational purposes and not intended to create an attorney-client relationship. Anyone reading this post should not act on any information contained herein without seeking professional counsel from an attorney.