The College has awarded the President’s Award to Professor John Gibson, founder and CEO of The Canmore Trust.

The award, announced during Mental Health Awareness Week and the first of its type to made by the College since it opened in 2021, has been bestowed on Professor Gibson to honour his work on suicide prevention and suicide postvention (the provision of support after someone dies by suicide).

Previously known as the Dean’s Award under the former Faculty of General Dental Practice UK (FGDP), it is given at the discretion of the College President to charities, dental professionals and other individuals who have made significant contributions to promoting and improving oral health or public health relevant to dentistry in the UK or internationally.

John Gibson is Emeritus Professor of Oral Medicine at the University of Aberdeen, and Honorary Consultant in Oral Medicine to the British Army. He graduated in both medicine and dentistry from the University of Glasgow, where he also undertook specialist training in oral medicine and completed his PhD in orofacial granulomatosis.

For 35 years, he worked as a clinical academic, with research interests including oral cancer, the oral manifestation of gastrointestinal disorders, and oro-facial pain syndromes. His appointments have included Professor of Medicine in Relation to Dentistry and Honorary Consultant in Oral Medicine at the University of Glasgow, Head of the University of Aberdeen Institute of Dentistry, Associate Postgraduate Dental Dean for Scotland, Chair of the General Dental Council’s Fitness to Practice Committee and Chair of Dental Protection Limited, and he has also worked at the Edinburgh Dental Institute and Dundee Dental Hospital and School.

In the early hours of Sunday 20 October 2019 his life, and that of his wife and family, was suddenly and cruelly changed when his beloved son Cameron, a newly qualified veterinary surgeon, died by suicide aged just 24. He had no known history of psychological distress and left no note to explain his decision – his death remains a mystery to those who knew and loved him.

This devastating event led to a period of mental ill health for John, and both he and his wife Isobel, a GP, resigned from work as they attempted to rebuild their shattered existence. As the family, including his two surviving children, struggled to resume their lives, they began the process of trying to understand suicide, and John and Isobel have since dedicated their time to suicide prevention and postvention, particularly in the medical, dental and veterinary professions.

Discovering that veterinary surgeons in the UK are three to four times more likely than the general population to die by suicide, they drove forward a discussion in the veterinary profession about improving mental health, engaging with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to bring about changes in drug-handling as well as research into suicidality within the profession.

In 2022 they established The Canmore Trust with a mission to reduce the number of people who die by suicide, and to help the family and friends of those who have died by suicide. The charity works with communities, practices, workplaces, schools, colleges and universities touched by suicide, and provides 24/7 support to those who may need encouragement to stay in the world despite all the struggles and difficulties they are currently facing.

To raise funds and awareness, John and Isobel embarked on multiple events. Most notably John walked 1,200 miles and climbed over 100,000 feet between Land’s End and John O’Groats in the summer of 2022, and he was joined by members of the veterinary and dental professions along the way. The journey inspired many others to mount their own events, and within ten months over £250,000 had been donated.

During the 76-day walk, he also delivered multiple talks to dental and other groups – including 50 dentists at a memorable CGDent evening in Inverness – where he discussed the issues of suicide and mental ill health and encouraged open discussion of these subjects.

John also trained as a facilitator with Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, and The Canmore Trust trains those impacted by suicide to become “experienced friends” – people who have developed the skills to walk with others on the journey of suicide grief.

The Trust also aims to influence government policies and societal change, and following a chance encounter with Nicola Sturgeon, in September 2022 John was appointed to the Lived Experience Panel advising the Scottish Government’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group.

The President’s Award will be conferred by outgoing President Dr Abhi Pal at the College’s Fellows’ Summer Reception in London on 20 June.

Announcing the award, Dr Pal said:

“Dentistry can be isolating, stressful and extremely demanding, and we know that the profession is, like veterinary medicine, at a higher-than-average risk of suicide. But while the importance of mental well-being is increasingly being recognised, we all still have much to learn about how we can better support ourselves and each other, both professionally and in our wider lives.

“John’s dogged determination to help others by addressing these issues is an inspiration. He has long been a highly respected colleague, admired as an excellent educator and an engaging, passionate and informative speaker. His candour and openness in discussing his own experiences and personal struggles is compelling, relevant and highly deserving of recognition. He is an example to us all, and on behalf of the College I wish him, and all those involved in The Canmore Trust, all the very best in their important work.”

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