‘Now everyone has the same stresses’: CrazySocks4Docs launches in a crazy year

Doug Hendrie

3/06/2020 3:59:52 PM

Concerns are rising about doctor mental health – here’s one way to tackle mental health issues in medicine.

man wearing odd socks
Wear your crazy socks this Friday to tackle mental health stigma in medicine.

It has been a hard year for GPs and other medical professionals.
Our largest ever bushfire season gave way to the fast-moving novel coronavirus pandemic – with doctors and nurses on the frontlines, potentially exposed to infection.
With that came real challenges to the viability of some general practices, as the economic repercussions ripple through.
It’s no surprise that concerns are rising about the downstream impact on the mental health of GPs.
But for Dr Geoff Toogood, there is one unexpected silver lining.
‘Before this, people who had mental health issues felt isolated. But now – now everyone has the same stresses. I get a sense that maybe some people are understanding more,’ he told newsGP.
When he started CrazySocks4Docs day in 2017, it was to push back against a medical culture that could dismiss mental health issues as weakness. Against a culture that drove people to work despite their suffering.
That sense of stigma and being alone with his depression took the Melbourne cardiologist close to suicide.
This Friday 5 June, Dr Toogood and thousands of other medical professionals will don their wildest socks in a show of solidarity and to tackle mental health stigma.  
‘We have to be well enough to look after the public,’ Dr Toogood said.
‘There has been a lot of anxiety this year. We were dealing with the fires and people were trying to survive that. Then in bounds COVID-19. It has just compounded the issue.
‘Now we have the stresses on people in private practice, where patients are just not coming in. That hit a lot of people hard too.’
To shed light on the challenges facing medical mental health – and the work being done, often under the radar – Dr Toogood has assembled a top-tier panel for a webinar. 
‘There is significant work being done, significant thought going in. The panel will show what’s being done,’ Dr Toogood said.
The webinar panel will cover mental health for medical professionals, with a specific focus on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
On the panel are:

  • Christine Morgan, Chief of the National Mental Health Commission and National Suicide Prevention Adviser to the Prime Minister
  • Professor Michael Kidd, Department of Health Principal Medical Advisor and Deputy Chief Medical Officer
  • Professor Ian Hickie, Co-Director of the Brain and Mind Centre at Sydney University
  • Georgie Harman, Head of Beyond Blue
  • Associate Professor Tony Walker, Ambulance Victoria Chief
  • Professor Michael Myers, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, New York
Hosting the panel will be GP Dr Sally Cockburn, better known as Dr Feelgood.
She told newsGP she is very proud to be hosting.
‘What I’ve noticed over the years is that we tend to put ourselves last on the list, as carers for large communities,’ she said.
‘If we think about what we go through with the families we care for – we go through their darkest hours and their brightest, too. But we don’t think about how it affects us.
‘We’re professionals and we can separate work from home. But even so, humanity takes its toll – with our own issues on top. I’ve cried when patients have died. I’ve thought about what more I could have done, even though I did as much as I could.’
Dr Cockburn believes that the emotional residue builds up slowly over the course of a career, often without the GP realising it.
‘Some call it burnout. I call it vicarious trauma,’ she said.
‘We do take this stuff on – and we need to be kind to ourselves.’
For Dr Cockburn, the idea of taking care of herself came to a head after she ended up in intensive care with a pulmonary embolism.
‘What struck me was that when I was really quite sick, many of my patients rang to check on me and ask if there was anything they could do,’ she said.
‘We need to realise as GPs that our patients can see us as part of the family. We often feel we can’t take time off, that they rely on us. But we need to take care of ourselves.
‘That’s why Crazy Socks is so good. It’s such a small thing to wear funny socks – but it says you’re thinking about it. It’s a simple gesture to say you’re taking care of yourself.’
One bright spot has been the way many medical professionals have taken to social media for peer support.
‘Social media can be so positive and the medical profession has latched onto how to use it for peer support,’ she said.
RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon said the college is proud to help raise awareness of the mental health of GPs around Australia.
‘It is essential that GPs and other health practitioners take care of their own health and wellbeing during this difficult time. We need to fight the stigma that persists when it comes to our mental health,’ he said.
‘GPs are human, there is absolutely no shame in reaching in out and asking for help.
‘I would encourage GPs to use this event as an opportunity to check in with yourself and your colleagues – put on your crazy socks and support mental health for health practitioners around the world.’ 
This year, the RACGP has launched a new range of crazy socks to support the event. All proceeds will be donated to Beyond Blue, the mental health support service recommended by Dr Toogood.
The CrazySocks4Docs webinar panel will run from 7.45–9.00 am, Friday 5 June. Registrations for the free event are now open.
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