AMA Victoria

6 September 2021

This week we have R U OK? Day on Thursday 9 September and World Suicide Prevention Day on Friday 10 September. Awareness days can sometimes attract cynicism, seen to trivialise a serious issue which needs to be addressed every day. 

Some doctors express the view that awareness days do not change the underlying issues which lead to the high level of suicide in members of the medical profession. However, awareness days do provide the opportunity to draw attention to and discuss important wellbeing topics such as workplace culture, bullying, mental health and suicide – topics which we may otherwise not talk about.

In our recent webinar, 'Thrive during your Medical Career' (available to watch here) we heard from four doctors who have a particular interest in the wellbeing of the medical profession, Dr Tahnee Bridson, Dr Eric Levi, Dr Jane Munro and Dr Kym Jenkins. We covered topics such as:
•    training programs and setbacks
•    relocation and isolation the culture of medicine
•    bullying, racism and prejudice
•    sexism and sexual harassment
•    stress and burnout
•    compassion fatigue
•    the risk of being a second victim. 

One of the themes that came up repeatedly was the importance of feeling connected to others in order to deal with the pressure and stress of medicine. These vital connections include family, friends, colleagues and even pets. More than once during the webinar these doctors mentioned that having the opportunity to ‘break bread’ with colleagues or even just having a coffee enabled communication which might not happen otherwise. These less formal conversations provide an opportunity to check-in with each other and share the challenges. Relationships develop which last beyond a rotation and enable long-term informal support and mentoring.

During the pandemic we have seen several valuable initiatives introduced into healthcare which enhance a feeling of connection and being valued. While tea rooms have been off limits to reduce risk of cross infection, we have seen the formation of Hand-n-Hand Peer Support, which links healthcare professionals into small peer support groups. We’ve had scrub choirs over Zoom and Tik Tok performances demonstrating how to don PPE. Healthcare workers have been able to access free hot drinks from certain fast food chains and also ‘pay it forward’ opportunities to fund the next person’s purchases.

Other good things to come out of the pandemic have been a collation of useful resources such as Pandemic Kindness, while highly regarded organisations such as the Black Dog Institute and Beyond Blue have put together specific resources for healthcare workers (listed at the end of this article). 

In Victoria, we have seen the launch of the Victorian Healthcare Worker Wellbeing Centre. The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our attention to wellbeing everyday, with the provision of easily accessible resources and an increased focus on connection and wellbeing.

During this week which focuses on suicide awareness, please consider how connected you are and think about how you can strengthen your connection to others around you. Also ask those around you how they are going and listen carefully to their response. Listening is very powerful and if you listen to understand, rather than to answer, your empathy will provide support. Start to do this now and you will build an everyday habit which will improve your sense of wellbeing long-term.

If you do find a colleague who is struggling, encourage them to reach out for support. Every doctor should have their own GP and a GP is a great starting point for help with mental health issues. The Victorian Doctors Health Program (VDHP) is also an excellent service for doctors or medical students with a helpline (03) 9280 8712 can be accessed 24/7. 

If anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, never promise to keep it confidential and do assist them to contact a suitable service immediately. Some useful resources are listed below.

Kay Dunkley
AMA Victoria Doctor Wellbeing Coordinator

Where to seek help

Victorian Doctors Health Program
Confidential / Non-judgemental 24 hour availability
Phone (03) 92808712

AMA Victoria Peer Support Service 
Anonymous and Confidential Support over the phone, Peer Support for doctors by doctors
Phone 1300 853 338
8am to 10pm every day of the year
Available to all medical students and doctors in Victoria and Tasmania

Online resources and links to information

Suicide Call Back Service
Suicide Call Back Service is a nationwide service providing 24/7 telephone and online counselling to people affected by suicide.
Phone: 1300 659 467

Black Dog Institute – The Essential Network for Healthcare Professionals

Beyond Blue 
On the frontline: how healthcare workers can support themselves and each other