CORRECTION: RACGP urges change to laws discouraging GPs from seeking mental healthcare

RACGP

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is calling for changes to mandatory reporting laws that discourage GPs from seeking healthcare.

The call comes on Crazy Socks 4 Docs day, 4 June 2021, which was started by Dr Geoffrey Toogood in 2017 to address mental health stigma among health practitioners.

It’s a timely push for change, as the COVID-19 pandemic and national vaccine rollout have made this year particularly challenging for GPs. Over half of GPs surveyed for the RACGP’s 2020 Health of Nation report reported at least one negative impact to their wellbeing during the pandemic, with one in four reporting a deterioration in their mental health.

RACGP President Dr Karen Price said doctors were not immune from mental health issues.

“GPs have been on the frontline managing the pandemic and now the vaccine rollout, we need to make sure that they can take care of their mental health too,” she said.

“Doctors have the right to receive confidential treatment like any other professional, without fear of repercussions to their medical registration.

“The RACGP has long been a strong advocate against laws requiring mandatory reporting by treating practitioners because they discourage doctors from seeking the healthcare they need for fear of being reported. These laws need to change now.”

The RACGP has been calling for exemptions for health practitioners from reporting doctors under their care since the inception of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (National Law) in 2009. This model has been adopted by Western Australia.

Minor amendments to mandatory reporting laws were introduced in 2019, along with updated guidelines aiming to reduce confusion surrounding requirements.

The RACGP President is also encouraging GPs to connect with their colleagues on Crazy Socks 4 Docs day.

“I’ll be putting on my crazy socks, and I hope to see a lot of other crazy socks on the day on social media and in real life,” she said.

“This is our day to create a safe place to have a conversation about mental health and wellbeing – because we need to keep fighting the stigma around doctors’ mental health, and to make it ok for a doctor not to be ok.”

“While there are differences in the scale of mental health issues and the pandemic is causing extra stress and anxiety for many, everyone has the need for a ‘mental health toolkit’.

“Social connectedness, exercise, adequate sleep, avoiding over work, taking time out for favourite activities, meditation, a healthy diet, your own GP, and even a pair of brightly coloured odd socks can all help.

“As GPs we do need to look after ourselves. We also need to know when our interventions are not working, and when we need to escalate our personal wellbeing plan to include our GP, a psychologist or a psychiatrist – GPs should not be afraid to reach out for support if they need it.”

The RACGP has been a proud supporter of Crazy Socks 4 Docs day since it was started by Dr Geoffrey Toogood.

Dr Toogood came up with the idea after he turned up for work one day wearing odd coloured socks. Rather than asking if he was okay, his colleagues at the hospital whispered about his ‘failure’ to wearing matching socks. And so, Dr Toogood started Crazy Socks 4 Docs – to make it ok for a doctor to not be ok.

Dr Toogood said Crazy Socks 4 Docs day was more important than ever.

“Crazy Socks 4 Docs day has now reached its 5th year and is going global.

“More than ever before we need to look after those that look after patients in Australia, and around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed extra stress upon our GPs, the support of their mental health underpins a safe health care system.

“Our themes this year are tackling stigma, creating a safe place for doctors to seek help and a safe place to work, allowing time to recover and encouraging story telling for its power to break the stigma.”

Health care workers are invited to tune in to an online panel on 4 June, featuring: Dame Clare Gerada, NHS PH, Medical Director and Chair of Doctors in Distress, doctor, lawyer, disability advocate and researcher Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM, Melbourne GP Dr Mukesh Haikerwal AC, and mental health advocates Indrani Tharmanason and Graeme Port. The panel will be hosted by Dr Geoffrey Toogood, and facilitated by Dr Sally Cockburn GP, health advocate and media presenter. It will also feature an opening message from Chair of Beyond Blue, Julia Gillard AC. Register online here.

Show your support by visiting the RACGP pop up shop and purchasing your own pair of crazy socks – here on the RACGP website.

The RACGP provides members a range of mental health resources with strategies for self-care, and a free support program with telephone counselling.

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