#19 Championing doctors’ mental health around the world
Cardiologist Dr Geoff Toogood is the founder of CrazySocks4Docs day, an awareness campaign about doctors’ mental health which dominated social media recently. Following his own battle with mental illness, Dr Toogood now champions mental health support for doctors. The idea for the campaign started when he wore odd socks to work one day and a colleague who knew of his past mental health history, became concerned and asked if he was well. Dr Toogood, an AMA Victoria member, shares his thoughts on the day and where it may lead.
I started the second CrazySocks4Docs day bright and early - already the tweets were coming through predawn from New Zealand. The formal launch was at 7.30am at Peninsula Health and 36 hours later we had reached over 45 million people in many countries – even the South Pole!
What had initially begun as a social media challenge to a few of my friends 12 months ago was now taking on a global reach. The day engaged all sorts of people from health ministers to the newest members of healthcare. It struck a chord not only in Australia but elsewhere – in corners of the globe I hadn’t expected. It was great for the day to be supported in the USA, Canada and UK, but I was also touched to hear about campaigns in countries such as Pakistan, Turkey and Nigeria. Clearly doctors’ mental health is a worldwide, cross-cultural issue.
My basic premise for the day was to establish awareness about the mental health issues doctors can face, normalise the conversation, create a safe place for that conversation to occur, encourage honest authentic leadership in the space and, importantly, allow us to admit our vulnerability as a strength not weakness.
Although I feel generally that the wider community has embraced mental health awareness, we as doctors have for a number reasons been very slow to recognise or act upon our own problems. We must find this awareness internally, but this would also be helped by a system that encourages doctors to speak up and ask for help, without fearing it could jeopardise their careers, or what colleagues might think. There is still much room for improvement in all of these areas.
Around the world doctors – and all health workers – are under increasing stress with rising incidences of burn out, depression, anxiety and sadly suicide. The medical profession experiences a higher suicide rate than most other professions. The day provided a reason or opportunity for doctors to tell each other they are perhaps suffering, or remember friends or colleagues who are no longer with us. For me the day was both emotionally challenging and tiring. I had been very ill in the past but it was extremely rewarding to see what has now flowed as a result of my personal experience. I know it was also an emotional time for many others. The social media sharing was at times heartbreaking, honest and confronting. It also had many smiling faces and coloured socks in a show of unity.
Establishing dialogue among doctors on the issue will flow not only to others in health but those we treat, because healthy doctors who show leadership in this space can ultimately only be good for all. The statistics show just here in Australia that suicide took 2866 people in 2016. It stretches way beyond doctors, but if we are showing vulnerability and normalising the conversation, it will hopefully break down barriers for the rest of the community who might be suffering.
So where does the future lie for the campaign? It starts with a big, juicy bone for my co-founder Sammy the sock-eating golden retriever who forced me to wear odd socks to work one day, a few weeks for me to gather some mental rest and self care, then it’s about making sure we continue to run the day and gain the most for all out of it.
I started with the premise if CrazySocks4Docs saves one life a year I would be pleased. I now hope it saves many more. Hopefully we can advocate for more funds towards better care in mental health and suicide prevention programs for the entire community.
What needs to remain, however, is the authentic and heartfelt background to the campaign. The day’s success was built on this and the global need for doctors’ mental health to be acknowledged.
My thanks go out to the many people who are helping in this space both here in Australia and internationally, and those who attended and supported the launch.
Dr Geoff Toogood
Read the extended version of this article in the August/September 2018 edition of Vicdoc.