Last year Dr Bridson worked with mental health advocates, including former Australian of the Year Professor Pat McGorry, to organise a mental health week in Cairns. The aim was to raise awareness of mental issues in the wider community and to remind her medical colleagues of the need to look after their mental health and wellbeing.
“We wanted everyone to think about their mental health and to know that it is okay to not be okay," she says. "We wanted people to feel they could put up their hand and say ‘I’m struggling and I need help’. People need to know that it is okay to be human, that no one has to be superhuman, and always putting on a brave face when things get tough. We also felt it was really important for people to know where they could turn for help.”
The success of the project had organisers looking at ways to expand in 2020, when the world was plunged into the unknown of COVID-19.
Growing the support network
Dr Bridson says such a major, ongoing stressor was always going to take a heavy toll on the mental health of doctors and other healthcare professionals working on the front lines of the pandemic.
To her, it seemed logical that they look at how their work from the previous year could form the basis of a support network for all healthcare professionals in need. Thus the Hand-n-Hand network was born.
“It’s not a clinical treatment service, we are not going to act as their doctor or treating nurse, psychologist, or dietician," she says. "It is a pre-clinical service for people looking for peer-to-peer support to help through this time. It’s not just for doctors but all healthcare workers.
“The whole idea for the name was just something I came up with on Sunday afternoon while trying to think of something catchy to call us. It stands for ‘Helping Australian and New Zealand Nurses and Doctors’.
"I was kind of worried that it might sound a bit lame, but it’s caught on and everyone likes it.”
Organisers started on social media, setting up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, calling for those who wanted support and those keen to act as mentors or supporters to sign up. Within a day more than 400 healthcare professionals had asked to join.
That number quickly quadrupled to 1600.
Six months on and Hand-n-Hand is now a national peer support network, working in partnership with the Black Dog Institute through The Essential Network for Health Professionals (TEN). The psychiatrists, GPs, nurses and allied health professionals provide effective peer support and mentoring services. The organisation also has the interest and support of several medical colleges, including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Members have presented webinars and conducted radio interviews about the importance of mental health.