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Taking colourful steps to better mental health

06 Jun 2019


Have you ever noticed that doctors often wear crazy, colourful socks to work?

Be it a fashion faux-pas or a mark of creativity, the reason behind the striking socks, at least on the first Friday in June, is a serious one.

The ‘Crazy Socks 4 Docs’ campaign raises awareness of mental health issues through a colourful show of support for healthcare workers.

The responsibility of working to save lives, often in acutely critical settings, can take its toll on the mental health of doctors and other health practitioners.

Deputy Director of Emergency Medicine at Nepean Hospital Dr Cindy Hastings has mentored many junior doctors over her career, and she’s observed how the pressures of Emergency Medicine can affect the mental health of clinicians.

“If your own emotional tank is empty then you can’t give to someone else,” says Dr Hastings, who sees the quality of relationships between colleagues as central to sustaining a healthy workplace.

“Our staff have very good relationships with the senior staff. It’s about maintaining a positive outlook through good relationships – treating each other respectfully.”

While a supportive workplace culture and dedicated employee assistance programs can contribute to keeping doctors and their colleagues healthy, individual attitudes and coping strategies also play an important role.

Urology Registrar Sean Heywood, says delivering bad news to families and missing out on time with his own are the two biggest challenges.

“I think about signs about when I’m not doing too well, and make time in the evening, or wipe the weekend of any work related things to spend time with my kids.”

Different medical settings and specialties can present unique challenges. While rural hospitals can provide unique and very rewarding experiences for doctors, Dr Monique Hayes, who is working towards her specialisation as a rural generalist at Lithgow Hospital, says that sometimes she can feel isolated.

“It’s a very different sort of schedule and it’s tricky touching base with people,” says Dr Hayes. “While other doctors can really empathise with your challenges, I’m sometimes the only one on the ward. Ultimately the people who have been most helpful have been my family and friends.”

Austin Lee, a Resident Medical Officer on rotation at Nepean Hospital, allows his passions outside of work to provide some necessary harmony. An avid flautist since the age of eight, Dr Lee is now a member of ‘Musicus Medicus’, the NSW Doctors' Orchestra, who are set to perform a charity concert in Chatswood on Sunday 16 June.

“There are so many doctors who are also musicians,” says Austin. “Music has been proven to reduce pain, lower the heart rate, lower blood pressure and induce positive emotions. It’s one of my biggest outlets.”

Dr Lee also supports his colleagues through his role as President of the Nepean Resident Medical Officer’s Association (RMOA), a not-for-profit group that offers advocacy and support for junior doctors across the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District.

Austin encourages young people considering a career in medicine to reach out to the supportive communities that surround them.

“Don’t ever feel like you’ve been put in the deep end and you’re alone. There are always people around to help.”

Staff across our Local Health District participate in Crazy Socks 4 Docs Day to help recognise the importance of maintaining good mental health on the job.

To help support and celebrate the contribution of your local doctors and health practitioners, pop on some crazy socks this Friday 7 June and join the campaign on social media at #CrazySocks4Docs.