World Mental Health Day: Caring for those who care
World Mental Health Day, observed annually on October 10th, resonates with people globally, emphasising the importance of mental health, promoting awareness, and pushing for more accessible mental health care. While this day holds significance for everyone, it bears particular importance for a segment of the population often overlooked: our doctors.
On World Mental Health Day 2024, we want to take a moment to highlight the importance of caring for those who care.
“But at least with mental health, everyone's woken up and felt and thought: I don't want to get out of bed today – whether it's because you're not getting on with people at work or because you're just having a really low day – everyone's felt that. And then, everyone's felt better after a walk or a run or a workout with their mates or whatever it is." Dr Ash Bowden
The mental health crisis in the medical profession
Doctors, by the nature of their profession, are repeatedly exposed to high-stress situations, life-and-death decisions, and emotional trauma. The constant exposure to the suffering of others and the weight of their responsibilities can take a toll. Surprisingly, while doctors are well-equipped to diagnose and treat mental health issues in their patients, they often neglect or overlook their own mental well-being.
“Once I understood that if I don’t look after myself I am hopeless at helping others without burning out, I made some radical changes to put my health and wellbeing as a priority" Dr Darryl-lee.
Why World Mental Health Day matters for doctors
Shedding light on stigma: Within the medical community, there's an unwarranted stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues. World Mental Health Day serves as a reminder that mental health issues are as real and valid as any physical ailment. For doctors, it’s an opportunity to introspect, recognise signs of burnout or mental distress, and seek help without fear of judgment.
Understanding vulnerability: The “doctor always knows best” cliché can make doctors feel they always have to be strong or infallible. This day emphasises that it’s okay for doctors to feel vulnerable and that acknowledging their feelings doesn’t make them any less competent.
Promoting self-care: In the hustle of saving lives, doctors often neglect their own health – both physical and mental. World Mental Health Day can serve as a reminder for physicians to take a step back, evaluate their mental health, and invest time in self-care.
“We are expected to be healers but “Physician heal thyself” is real. Dr Dani Bachmann
Support systems and resources
The medical community globally has started recognising the mental health challenges faced by its members. Various organisations offer support systems, helplines, and resources specifically tailored for medical professionals. These include therapy sessions, support groups, and even wellness retreats focused on meditation, relaxation, and coping strategies.
Need support? We've compiled a list of mental health and wellbeing services in Australia and New Zealand.
What can be done?
Peer support: Doctors understanding and supporting one another can make a significant difference. Peer support groups, either formal or informal, can be platforms where doctors share their experiences, challenges, and coping mechanisms.
Hand-N-Hand Peer Support is a website started by Dr Tahnee Bridson. It offers free, confidential peer support for health professionals in Australia and New Zealand. You sign up and are matched with another healthcare professional volunteer. The volunteers are experienced healthcare professionals with dedicated mental health training. Both one-on-one and group peer support are available.
Institutional initiatives: Medical institutions can play a pivotal role by introducing mental health check-ins, providing counselling services, and ensuring that doctors have access to resources to help them cope.
Continued education: Seminars, workshops, and courses on mental health can be incorporated into medical training, ensuring doctors are well-equipped to handle the stresses of their profession and understand the importance of mental well-being.
“Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Live, laugh, and love” Dr Dani Bachmann
World Mental Health Day serves as a reminder of the importance of mental wellbeing for everyone, including those in the medical profession. For doctors, this day can be a catalyst for change – to recognise their mental health needs, seek support, and promote a healthier work-life balance. After all, only when our healers are mentally fit can they offer their best to those in their care.