It’s time to look after ourselves, too: Dr Toogood

3 minute read

Dr Geoffrey Toogood has been recognised for his advocacy to break mental health stigma among doctors.

Cardiologist Dr Geoffrey Toogood, aka the Crazy Socks 4 Docs guy, has been awarded this year’s Australian Mental Health Prize for a doctor with lived experience.

“I’m honoured and humbled to win the award,” the passionate advocate for doctor mental health told The Medical Republic. “I was quite emotional to win it, considering the place I’d been.”

Dr Geoffrey Toogood pictured at the 2023 Australian Mental Health Prize awards ceremony last night with Professor Allan Fels, co-chair of the Australian Mental Health Prize committee.

Dr Toogood’s journey into mental health advocacy has been a deeply personal one. Having struggled through periods of significant depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation during his career, Dr Toogood vowed to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health among doctors.

“I didn’t want someone to go through the same thing I went through – the same stigma that really delayed me seeking help because I was afraid what people would say about me having a mental health issue,” Dr Toogood told TMR.

“I wanted to advocate for better circumstances and conditions for doctors in the hope that someone wouldn’t end up in the same place that I did.”

Starting out as a speaker for Beyond Blue, Dr Toogood said that his position as a doctor with lived experience funnelled him into advocacy for mental health within medicine.

“[Doctors] need to hear from someone they can relate to and someone that’s senior, that can tell their story.”

After being met with ridicule rather than compassion when he went to work with mismatched socks, Dr Toogood began the Crazy Socks 4 Docs movement to bolster “awareness around mental health issues in doctors and the stigma they face”.

The initiative’s yearly fundraising event, Crazysocks4docs Day – which occurs on the first Friday of June – has now reached global recognition, with doctors in New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, the UK and Germany celebrating the day.

Dr Toogood hopes the initiative can build on its initial aims to focus more on advocacy for “tangible action”.

The charitable trust for the organisation, started in 2018, now sponsors programs championing change around mental health in doctors, including an initiative in South Australia which educates GPs on how to provide care for other doctors with mental illness, which it hopes will expand nationally.

Dr Toogood championed the work of local doctors in breaking down stigma in their community, “particularly senior people sharing their story”.

He added that people that have worked to “bounce back” from mental health issues are the “very people that should be listened to as leaders and advocated for mental health and change, as we’ve been through the system”.

“We [doctors] spend our time studying how to look after patients … but we need to learn how to look after ourselves and care for each other.

“If you’ve got a well doctor, you got a well health system.”

Although Dr Toogood remains excited by the growth in recognition and focus on the mental health of doctors, he said the stigma remains “significantly worse” within the medical realm than elsewhere.

“Within the demanding realm of healthcare, it’s vital to recognise that the healers themselves need healing. The weight of their responsibilities can dim their own wellbeing.

“By embracing self-care, they not only preserve their own mental health but also enrich the compassion they bring to their patients, fostering a healthcare environment where everyone can truly thrive.”

If this article caused distress or if you are prompted to reach out for support, these services are available: 

Doctors4doctors crisis support hotline: 1300 374 377 

Lifeline: 13 11 14 

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 46 36 

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