A message from Zukiswa Zingela, executive dean, Faculty of Health Sciences, Nelson Mandela University
Stigma is an obstacle to seeking help across a number of medical conditions. Massive campaigns have been launched to destigmatize conditions like HIV, epilepsy, substance misuse and TB. Similarly, the #CrazySocks4Docs initiative was launched by a medical doctor who became concerned about the stigma associated with doctors, the lack of acknowledgment when they are not OK, or the hesitation to seek help when they should.
Considering the challenges that doctors and other healthcare professionals face across the world, this initiative promotes one day on which medical doctors can acknowledge their vulnerability to human conditions like mental health challenges, and for it to be acceptable to say, “I’m not OK. I need help.”
More importantly, not only should it be OK for doctors to acknowledge this, but there should also be clearly set out pathways to access help in every system that has doctors as part of its work force. This should extend to medical students, because the misery of denying one’s own mental health needs often starts in medical school, and unless pertinently addressed through campaigns like these, the misery has the potential to grow into specific mental disorders like depression and anxiety disorders, substance abuse and other maladaptive coping styles.
We owe it to ourselves as the medical profession to invest in our own mental health as we invest ourselves wholly into the care of others. For just a day, we are asked to stop and think about our mental health and the health of colleagues. We are asked to consider when we are the patient needing help, how we go about accessing that help. As much as this question does not come naturally to us, it’s time to let it become a habit; a way of life that lasts throughout our careers and beyond.