Rural Doctors Foundation

Support rural and remote communities across Australia – donate here to make a difference

Dr Margaret Kay

Dr Margaret Kay, our Medical Director, shares her knowledge and insights from a diverse career in medical education, academic medicine, and clinical practice.

5 minute read

Why we're wearing our craziest socks today

What’s in this article

On Crazysocks4Docs Day we look at the importance of breaking down the stigma around mental health in doctors and health practitioners.

Today is Crazysocks4docs Day, held every year on the first Friday of June.

Started by consultant cardiologist, Dr Geoff Toogood, the aim of the movement is to break down the stigma around mental health in doctors and health practitioners.

Showing solidarity for the cause is simple and fun: put on your craziest and most colourful socks, take a picture and post it on social media alongside the hashtag #crazysocks4docs.

Most importantly, it’s the perfect day to reflect on mental health and why it’s okay to not be okay. Dr Geoff Toogood has had his own lived experiences with depression and anxiety. He is determined to normalise the conversation around mental health for doctors and create a safe place to speak out and get support.

It’s an important conversation to be had for all health workers, including those who live and work in rural areas of Australia.

Sadly, research shows heightened suicide rates for doctors.

Statistics show that female doctors suicide at 2.27 times the rate of the general population, and male doctors at 1.41 times the general population.

Add the extra challenges of rural isolation into the mix, and these statistics likely get worse. And not just for doctors. Rural nurses and other healthcare workers face these challenges too.

What we're doing to support mental health for doctors

Rural Doctors Foundation has long championed for better access to health services for rural doctors so they can get the support they need.

It’s why we set up the GPs4RuralDocs program. Our visiting GPs specialise in rural practice, doctor-to-doctor care and mental health. They provide confidential health check-ups that focus on the physical and mental health of their healthcare patients.

Somebody who understands the importance of improved access to mental health care for doctors is Dr Margaret Kay, Medical Director here at Rural Doctors Foundation. Here is what she had to say:

Seeking healthcare when you are a rural doctor has been a perennial challenge for rural doctors. Being a dedicated doctor doesn’t stop you needing your own health care. Everyone needs their own GP. While all doctors experience barriers accessing care for themselves, the tyranny of distance multiples these difficulties for rural doctors.

The Rural Doctors Foundation has been focused on supporting the rural doctors who are busy caring for their rural communities.

The 2022-23 Rural Doctors Foundation Survey highlighted the challenges of health access. This survey showed that rural doctors rated their personal health status 10% lower than doctors working in metropolitan areas.

Rural doctors were concerned that their lack of access to health care would impact their health, both physically and mentally, and their family life.

It was clear that enabling rural doctors to access the care they needed would help support them to stay working in rural communities.

It takes vision to find solutions for complex problems such as these. Recently, we successfully launched the pilot program, GPs4RuralDocs, specifically designed to address this vital issue by ensuring a GP is available to provide regular, face-to-face care in town, with telehealth support between visits.

This service provides rural doctors with access to independent care. Our survey revealed how difficult this can be for rural doctors.

Rural doctors can find themselves very isolated – 12% of doctors working in remote and very remote communities had no other GP in their town and 32% had one other doctor within 50kms. Local independent options for medical care simply don’t exist. For rural doctors, not treating yourself and not seeking advice from close colleagues can result in simply not getting any care.
Usually, rural doctors need to travel away from their community to seek health care for themselves.

For 50% of rural doctors in the survey, accessing care means travelling over 300km and 80% of these travelled over 800km to seek care. Often the town is left with no doctor during this time as over 60% of rural doctors were unable to get work relief while they travelled to seek health care.

It can be difficult for rural doctors to decide when they should leave to seek care. Balancing these decisions and being dedicated to the needs of their community can result in rural doctors delaying their routine care.

The GPs4RuralDocs program has been designed with rural doctors to ensure that it addresses many of these concerns that rural doctors have raised. It has strong clinical governance to ensure it offers best practice care that addresses important issues like ensuring confidential care with private and secure medical records.

This helps to reduce the stigma when seeking support for mental health concerns.

Crazysocks4docs Day provides an opportunity for the medical profession to address the concerns about stigma when seeking care for themselves. By offering innovative solutions to health access for rural health practitioners, Rural Doctors Foundation is providing on-the-ground practical support that can help reduce the stigma for rural doctors seeking care.

If you are a doctor or medical student who is in crisis and needs help now, call triple zero (000). You can also call Doctors’ Health Queensland on 07 3833 4352 — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help now, call triple zero (000). You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Dr Margaret Kay is Medical Director at Rural Doctors Foundation. She has been a general practitioner for over thirty years. She has had a diverse career that has included medical education, academic medicine, and clinical practice, and in 2022 was awarded an Order of Australia for her contributions to the sector.