We tend to think of doctors as the professionals we turn to when we are suffering, but we often forget that they are still people who also need help from time to time. The same applies to medical students, who study under immense strain as doctors-to-be.
The mental strain on medical professionals working in South Africa can be enormous, and it is well-documented that levels of depression and mental fatigue are particularly high among professionals who dedicate their lives to the treatment of others.
In fact, a Cape Town study found that 30% of public primary healthcare doctors are living with moderate-to-severe depression.1 At the same time, it is estimated that around a third of South African medical students have suicidal thoughts, and that over 6% of medical students attempt suicide.2
Committed to address these worrying statistics, the Ithemba Foundation – Ithemba means hope – and the sock manufacturer Falke and pharmaceutical group Cipla partnered to launch the #CrazySocks4Docs campaign in South Africa on 7 June 2019. Having first been started in Australia in 2017, this initiative aims to raise awareness and give moral support to medical professionals battling with mental health issues, by reminding them that they are not alone.
As part of the #CrazySocks4Docs campaign in South Africa, Falke, the Ithemba Foundation, and Cipla donated 12 000 pairs of high-quality, highly visible socks to medical professionals and medical students around the country. On 7 June, thousands from pre-school pupils to students and healthcare workers, as well as the public, joined the movement by wearing their colourful, silly socks and posting photos to social media with #CrazySocks4Docs and #ithembafoundation in a show of solidarity to all of the medical professionals and students who are living with depression and having suicidal thoughts.
Keaton Quarmby, Falke SA group marketing executive, says that Falke is proud to support this initiative and helping to raise awareness of the high expectations on doctors and health care professionals in South Africa and the impact it has on their well-being. “Our aim with getting involved with this campaign was to start a conversation and to raise awareness and open dialogue around doctors with mental health issues, and encourage them to seek help if they need it.”
“The #CrazySocks4Docs campaign was about shining a light on the highly stressful nature of the medical profession and reminding doctors that they must also ask for help when they need medical attention – whether it is physical or mental. We want to help reshape the culture in the medical industry and show doctors that their colleagues are there to support them when they need it. At the same time, we also want to encourage the rest of the world to help take care of those who care for them,” says Paul Miller, CEO of Cipla Medpro.
“Widespread change is needed to tackle the problem of depression and suicide that is so prevalent among medical students and practising healthcare professionals. Part of making a difference is to encourage conversations about mental health and help reduce the stigma for doctors and medical students experiencing mental illness. Wearing mismatched socks may seem like a strange place to start affecting this change, but visibly showing our support for our carers is an important first step. We chose to partner with Falke and Cipla because they share these important values of starting conversations about Caring for our Carers,” says Professor Lizette Rabe, founder of Ithemba Foundation.
The Ithemba Foundation is a non-profit entity aimed at raising awareness of depression as a biological illness, and fundraising to support further research into this condition.
If you or someone that you know are suffering from a mental health condition, or have suicidal thoughts and are in need of help, you can call the CIPLA 24-hour mental health helpline on 0800 456 789 or WhatsApp 076 882 2775 for free counselling from a counsellor at SADAG.