Why it's OK for a doctor not to be OK

By Hamish Meldrum and Melinda McCarthy published on 02/06/2021 Ochre Recruitment, Ochre Health /

With CrazySocks4Docs Day only 2 days away, it's time to rummage through your messy sock drawer to find your quirkiest socks to wear on Friday, June 4 to celebrate #crazysocks4docs day. Take a photo of yourself in the socks and post the photo on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #crazysocks4docs.

As most of us know, the event is all about raising awareness of the mental health of all doctors and health professionals around the world. Founder Dr Geoff Toogood, created the day in an attempt to address the stigma around the mental health of doctors and to make it ok for a doctor not to be ok.

Our very own director and founder Hamish Meldrum reflects on his outback experiences with mental health and explains why it’s so important to break down the stigma – now more than ever.

As a doctor in Bourke I would often have difficultly transferring patients with an acute mental health crisis to the nearest referral hospital over 400km away. The scenario would run like this - you would talk to ‘patient flow’ to arrange a hospital admission but the flow would be lacking. First of all you would need to have the patient scheduled, then arrange a police escort, make sure they were sedated, and have two IV lines.  So with all that checked off, you just needed a plane and pilot, but often the pilot would refuse to fly. This never happened with physical illnesses but was pretty common in the area of mental health. Very frustrating and not good for patient care.

Given the stigma within the health system towards patients with mental health problems, it should be no surprise that doctors are reluctant to come forward with their own problems. Doctors have a number of predisposing factors that can make them prone to mental health issues. They include having too much self-esteem invested in their work, putting in long hours, and dealing with death and patient trauma. Doctors experience higher levels of mental distress than the general population and according to the RACGP, four in ten GPs report they have personally delayed seeking treatment or care in the past two years.

So how should we all, doctors included, build resilience to mental health? The key things in my opinion are to make time for exercise, stay connected to family and friends and find your sense of purpose. However, this is CrazySocks4Docs Day and as well as looking after ourselves we need to look after others. So, if you have a friend or a work colleague, and they don’t seem to be themselves, don’t be afraid to reach out and check in with them. Mental health issues are common and often temporary and your action of reaching out, not judging and having a conversation, can make a difference.

Oncology Staff at Canberra Private Hospital

So what is the story behind CrazySocks4Docs Day?

This day was founded by the accomplished cardiologist from Victoria, Dr Geoff Toogood, who was inspired to take action as a result of the personal mental health discrimination he felt from his medical colleagues.

Geoff has lived with both depression and anxiety, and liked to wear brightly coloured socks to lift his mood. But due to his mischievous dog Sammy, who would go through his laundry basket, Geoff was often left with mismatched socks to wear to work.

Even after he had recovered from depression, Geoff still wore odd socks to work. But the whispering he heard behind his back inspired him to become a leading voice for change within the medical profession. He started the day as an attempt to address the stigma and to make it OK for a doctor to be not OK. His goal is to reduce suicide amongst doctors around the world.    

If you would like to join the virtual event (7.45am – 9am on June 4), where panellists will talk about building safe places to seek help and encourage the act of storytelling, you can register here:

https://www.crazysocks4docs.com.au/crazysocks4docs-day/crazysocks4docs-day-2021/

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Join us on Friday 4 June to start a conversation and help raise awareness of just how important it is for all of us to look after our mental health.

And don’t forget to share your crazy photos on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook using the crazysocks4docs hashtag. #crazysocks4docs

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