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Keeping up the conversation about mental health

25 May 2021 | Avant Media

Dr Geoff Toogood, cardiologist and founder of the Crazy Socks 4 Docs movement.

Having suffered from depression and anxiety, Dr Geoff Toogood has experienced first-hand stigma and discrimination at many levels. Once recovered he wanted to share his story in the hope of reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues. So, he founded Crazy Socks 4 Docs Day in 2017.

Avant recently interviewed Geoff to talk about the Crazy Socks 4 Docs movement, how to support the cause on Friday 4 June and what changes still need to happen to support doctors who are struggling with their mental health.

From a humble tweet

Five years ago, when Geoff started Crazy Socs 4 Docs, he never imagined it would take off as it has. He thought it might just be a few mates and a couple of tweets. Instead, healthcare professionals, politicians and supporters around Australia and globally are sharing their pictures and their stories.

The movement has shone a light on mental health. “We’ve started a broader conversation on doctors’ mental health and used this to start breaking down the stigma associated with it. It has given doctors the incentive to seek help,” says Geoff.

All doctors need to be well

While Crazy Socks 4 Docs Day has helped open up and keep the conversation going around doctors’ mental health, there is still a high level of mental illness and suicide amongst doctors, especially doctors in training. Geoff believes more needs to be done to prevent this.

“All doctors need to be well. Older doctors cannot support younger ones unless they are mentally well themselves.”

“There needs to be time and space for mental health programs, and we need to address the stigma and guilt around this illness.”

A toolbox, not a tick box

‘Building resilience’ is spoken about a lot among the medical profession, but it’s not just about being resilient when it comes to mental health.

Geoff says; “The term resilience is often used incorrectly by hospitals and other organisations. Most of the time, it is used as a tick box instead of a toolbox.”

“Doctors are developing resistance – putting up with the long hours and what is going on around them, rather than building resilience.”

Resilience is gained through the support of a ‘village’ and shouldn’t be an individual burden. Doctors need to remember it is not a doctor only problem and they are not alone.

Seek help from your local doctor and speak to loved ones and close friends. Take care of your physical wellbeing; eat healthily, get plenty of sleep and socialise with friends outside of work.

Watch Dr Toogood’s 1.5 minute video on resilience being a toolbox not a tick box.

Fear of retribution

Many young doctors live in fear of speaking up about mental health because of retribution. The potential stigma and concerns about their career being affected if it's known they have a mental health issue, weighs heavily on them.

“Employers and governing bodies need less stringent and adoptive processes in place, to allow doctors to seek help without retribution or career harming repercussion,” says Geoff.

There have been some positive changes to the mandatory reporting obligations to reduce the barriers for doctors to seek help. If a doctor is not placing the public at risk, their treating doctor does not need to mandatory report. Geoff thinks most doctors don’t understand their obligations, which can lead to unnecessary reporting and can have a significant impact on a doctor already experiencing mental illness.

Geoff says; “Not only are doctors trying to recover, if they have been reported, they are also trying to meet compliance requirements.”

Crazy Socks 4 Docs 2021 and the future

Crazy Socks 4 Docs Day is on Friday, 4 June and this year, Geoff wants to get powerful voices out there. He wants to tackle the stigma, build safe places for doctors to seek help and emphasise the value of storytelling in helping yourself and others.

There will be a panel discussion hosted by ‘Dr feelgood’ Sally Cockburn, and will include:

  • Dame Clare Gerada - Chair of Doctors in Distress (UK)
  • Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM - doctor, lawyer and disability advocate at Gold Coast University Hospital
  • Dr Mukesh Haikewell AC - Chair of Beyond Blue National Doctors’ Mental Health Program

You will also hear from the family of Dr Tasha Port, who tragically died a year ago, as they share Tasha’s story. You can register to attend the panel discussion here – don’t forget to wear your crazy socks on the day, and share your pictures on social media with #crazysocks4docs.

Geoff has big plans for the future of Crazy Socks 4 Docs, beyond just one day. His goal is to provide funding for events where doctors will share their stories, and to set up more support programs both in Australia and globally.

To find out more about Crazy Socks 4 Docs and how you can get involved, visit crazysocks4docs.com.au.

Watch Dr Toogood’s 2 minute video on this year’s Crazy Socks 4 Docs virtual event.

Useful resources

Avant Personal Support Program

Avant members with mental health issues can access a range of support options, including up to six sessions of confidential, external counselling provided by Benestar, a leading global provider of corporate psychology services.

The counselling service offers objective psychological support and the provision of coping skills for a range of work-related issues such as work stress, issues with patients, personal issues relating to anxiety or depression, and legal issues around medico-legal complaints. Options available include face-to-face counselling, phone support or video counselling.

Call 1300 360 364 to access the service.

Further resources can be found on our health and wellbeing website

Mandatory notifications for treating practitioners factsheet

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