Strength and Safety in Numbers
Having grappled with severe anxiety myself and definitely witnessed some of my peers do the same, I am glad to see that mental health in the study and practice of medicine is being brought to the forefront lately. The stigma surrounding depression and ‘burn-out’ is instead being slowly but surely replaced with initiatives to better understand and support the problem at hand.
I’m fortunate in that I don’t experience shame or shyness concerning my own struggles, whereas I know others’ plights are exacerbated by the feeling that they need to suffer alone or in silence. It’s been inspiring to see how the atmosphere surrounding stress and anxiety amongst my peers has evolved even in the first 12 months of medical school.
I’m thankful to be studying alongside a growing number people that are vehemently passionate about spreading awareness and establishing support networks for our whole cohort. Thanks to their efforts, more and more students have publically shared their stories and offered their support for others that may be experiencing something similar. One such initiative that comes to mind was the ‘Odd Sock Day’ which was vigorously endorsed by a select few students whom managed to get our entire two-hundred-and-something people cohort involved. The day symbolised that everyone can have an ‘odd’ day, and you’ll never be alone if you need help at any given time.
What truly warms my heart about this movement I’m witnessing, is that not only do I feel more supported should my own struggles prove overwhelming, but on a grander scale, it’s reassuring to see that a problem that has been identified on a national level is in fact being addressed at the core for the generations to come! Australia has reported drastically elevated rates of mental health issues amongst medical trainees and practitioners which has then impacted their quality of life as well as the quality of the healthcare service they provide (1).
It may seem pessimistic, but so often do I see issues reported on the news and subsequently, promises made to attempt and address these problems. More often than not, I never hear nor see any of said improvements be attempted. In this case, however, I am not only seeing, but personally experiencing one such improvement’s implementation! My medical school and its staff are working hard every day to help its students and inspiringly, students are also taking it upon themselves to hold each-other afloat in times of need!
I’m confident that help such as this has always been available to some degree, but I think the shift currently at hand stems from dissipation of the stigma and fear around the topic and reaffirmation of the need for normalisation thereof. Baby steps are steadily and swiftly becoming strides and I’m confident that before too long, not a single student nor doctor will feel as though they can’t acquire the help they require and deserve.