BY VIRGINIA SU
I stared intensely at the two options in front of me – I had a crucial decision to make. In my left hand I held my pair of simple black work socks that I wore to work every day. In my right hand, a pair of bright rainbow tie dye socks with little embroidered corgis. They were crisp and untouched ever since I bought them on a whim last year, but today was why I had kept them all this time.
Friday 5th June, the first Friday of June. It’s Crazy Socks 4 Docs day!
It all started when Dr Geoff Toogood wore mismatched coloured socks one day to work because his puppy had eaten all his other pairs. Hushed whispers that his mental health had deteriorated again went on behind closed doors. Yet not a single person asked him if he was ok or offered support despite believing him to be suffering from mental illness. To combat this stigma surrounding mental health in healthcare professionals and normalise support and conversations, he established the foundation “Crazy Socks 4 Docs” as a platform for awareness and discussion.
Doctors have a duty to care for their patients’ health both physically and mentally, but what happens when the doctor needs help and support? So many doctors experience burnout and stress overload from working overtime, compensating for staff shortages, sleep deprivation, imposter syndrome, emotional overflow from patients’ circumstances and the heavy responsibility for people’s lives. And yet, there’s constant pressure from the general public, fellow colleagues and high self-expectations for doctors to be perfect and to set aside their own issues for their job. 1 in 5 doctors in Australia have been diagnosed with depression, according to the 2019 National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students. In order for doctors to perform to the best of their capabilities, it is crucial that their health is looked after first, as supported by research showing strong correlation between the mental health of doctors and the effectiveness of health care and patient safety.
Medical students of course are not exempt from the increased risk of mental illnesses. In 2013, Beyond Blue conducted the first nation-wide survey, reporting that 1 in 5 medical students had suicidal thoughts over the previous year with 40-50% experiencing emotional exhaustion with anxiety and depression symptoms. This is significantly higher than the Australian population, indicating that systemic change within medical training, such as regulations and policies aimed at reducing the risk, must be implemented.
In this current world state of a pandemic, it is more crucial than ever to take these issues seriously and support the mental health of doctors. Medical professionals are the front-line soldiers in a war for global health and all eyes and even more pressure are on them to treat patients despite limited hospital resources. They are sacrificing sleep and their own health, with issues infiltrating their personal lives as many are forced to separate from high-risk family members as their work puts them at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 themselves.
What can you do to get involved?
Crazy Socks 4 Docs Day is its flagship global awareness day where you are encouraged to wear crazy socks and strike up conversations about mental health in the medical work field. So pick some crazy socks, snap a pic and upload them onto Instagram with the #crazysocks4docs! And if you don’t have a pair of crazy socks, SockMe (https://sock-me.com.au/) is donating $2 to the foundation for every pair of socks purchased for the rest of June. You can also donate straight to the foundation through its website to further support its vision, but most of all, start the conversation the next time you see a colleague or doctor.