#CrazySocks4Docs: Raising awareness one sock at a time

Student and staff showing off their bright, silly or mismatched socks as part of the #CrazySocks4Docs campaign.
More than 2000 staff members and students at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) wore bright, silly or mismatched socks on #CrazySocks4Docs day (Friday 7 June 2019) to raise awareness and give moral support to medical and health professionals battling with mental health issues. 
 
Brought to South Africa by a local non-profit entity, the Ithemba Foundation, the campaign helped health professionals and students in training take a giant collective leap toward reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. The #CrazySocks4Docs campaign, which entailed the distribution of over 12000 pairs of bright and funky socks to medicine and health sciences students across South Africa, was very well received and supported by FMHS staff and students alike. 
 
The FMHS, comprising undergraduate programmes in medicine, dietetics, physiotherapy, speech, language and hearing therapy, occupational therapy and nursing, wholeheartedly embraced this initiative, which is centred on raising awareness of mental illness in health professionals. Hundreds of students wearing scrubs were seen wearing their crazy socks on the designated day as Faculty staff members donated more than R5000 to the Ithemba Foundation. The Foundation raises awareness of depression as a biological illness and provides funding for research on depression. 
 
Said Professor Lizette Rabe, founder of the Ithemba Foundation: “What a wonderful way to have experienced how we have all literally taken the first step to show we care…by taking the ‘i’ out of ‘illness’ and replacing it with ‘we’ for wellness.”  Rabe further highlighted statistics, which show that health professions experience the highest incidence of depression and suicide in the world. “The Ithemba Foundation wanted #CrazySocks4Docs day to be a really fun and funky campaign that highlights the serious issue of caring for our carers. By putting on our funky socks, we break the silence surrounding mental health, also and especially in the health professions,” said Rabe. 
 
Professor Jimmy Volmink, FMHS dean said the faculty’s goal was to equip its students to promote health, treat disease and reduce suffering in South Africa and beyond. “We are only able to do this successfully if we recognise that medical and health professionals are human too and often experience severe mental stress in the course of carrying out their work. We can help by having conversations about mental health challenges among colleagues in our respective fields.” 
 
The #CrazySocks4Docs campaign was founded by Australian cardiologist Dr Geoff Toogood in 2017 and brought to health sciences faculties at South African universities across the country by the Ithemba Foundation, pharmaceutical group, Cipla and sock manufacturer, Falke.   
 
If you or someone you know are suffering from mental health distress, or have suicidal thoughts and are in need of help, please call the CIPLA 24-hour mental health helpline on 0800 456 789 or WhatsApp 076 882 2775 for free counselling from a counsellor at SADAG.  
Florence de Vries