Since January, three female medical professionals — two physicians and a medical student — have tragically died by suicide in New York City. Their deaths have been bringing attention to a hidden mental health crisis impacting physicians all across the US — one in which some hospitals are addressing by asking their doctors to wear "crazy" socks.
"Friday June 1 is International Physician Mental Awareness Day," the email, obtained by Refinery29, read. "Please consider wearing odd socks to support #crazysocks4docs." (It is unclear what the administration was referring to, as "International Physician Mental Awareness Day" does not appear to be an officially recognised day.)
Attached was an illustration of a morose woman in scrubs wearing two different socks.
A Mount Sinai representative told Refinery29 that Crazy Socks 4 Docs was brought to their attention by colleagues at Yale University.
Mount Sinai has faced criticism for their handling of suicides of three women in their community, most recently the death of Dr. Deelshad Joomun. Earlier this year, many physicians told Refinery29 that the hospital was not doing enough to address the wellbeing of its doctors. In March, despite a petition by staffers, the hospital increased the rent on their subsidised housing for incoming physicians by 40%.
"The intentions seem good, and I’m happy it has been helpful for doctors in Australia," an attending physician at Mount Sinai, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told Refinery29. "I’m not sure if there are different cultural sensibilities in New York City, but this felt completely tone deaf and belittling given the recent death of my colleague. It just feels ridiculous given the absurd working conditions for doctors at Sinai ... wear socks to improve mental health? How about give doctors a room with a window and easy access to water?"
The physician added that while the hospital has sent out "routine emails offering mental health services" and hired two "well being and resilience leaders," not much has changed since her colleague's death in January.
"On a day to day basis, nothing has changed. Call rooms are still dismal, administrative tasks are crushing, patient loads often unbearable," she said.
She, as well as others, have also taken issue with use of the word "crazy" for the initiative.
"'Crazy' is an insensitive and inappropriate term to use for a campaign that claims to have a mission to destigmatize mental illness," Dr. Pamela Wible, an outspoken advocate for physician mental health and suicide prevention, told Refinery29.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, words like "crazy," "insane," "lunatic," and "psycho" are often used in a negative context, which stigmatises those with mental illness. "Using 'crazy' to describe a mentally healthy person doing bad things makes it seem like mental health is a choice. Mental health is medical health, not a bad choice or bad behavior," an APA blog reads.
"While conversations may begin at a very superficial level ('Hey, cool socks doc!'), raising awareness must quickly move to action if we are to save lives today," Dr. Wible wrote in a blog post about the initiative. "Hospital administrators and CEOs have a real opportunity on June 1st to move beyond self-protective sound bites and talking points that blame the victims and take some responsibility for the system that sets so many doctors up to fail. Let’s move from pugs on pink socks to collaborating on serious real-world suicide solutions."
If you are thinking about suicide, please contact Samaritans on 116 123. All calls are free and will be answered in confidence.