Long hours and stress are taking a toll on South African doctors and medical students with many suffering from depression

The mental strain on medical professionals working in South Africa can be immense, and it is well-documented that levels of depression and mental fatigue are particularly high among professionals who dedicate their lives to the treatment of others.

Depressed doctors and suicidal medical students

In fact, a Cape Town study found that 30% of public primary healthcare doctors are living with moderate-to-severe depression.1

At the same time, it is estimated that around a third of South African medical students have suicidal thoughts, and that over 6% of medical students attempt suicide.2

Raising awareness about doctors’ suffering mental health

Committed to addressing these worrying statistics, the Ithemba Foundation (Ithemba means hope), sock manufacturer Falke and pharmaceutical group Cipla have partnered to launch the #CrazySocks4Docs campaign in South Africa.

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Having first been started in Australia in 2017, this initiative aims to raise awareness and give moral support to medical professionals battling with mental health issues, by reminding them that they are not alone.

Falke, the Ithemba Foundation, and Cipla will be donating 12 000 pairs of high-quality, highly visible socks to medical professionals and medical students around the country. On 7 June, everyone is encouraged to join the movement by wearing their colourful, silly socks and posting a photo to social media with #CrazySocks4Docs and #ithembafoundationin a show of solidarity to all the medical professionals and students who are living with depression and having suicidal thoughts.

Keaton Quarmby, Falke SA group marketing executive, says that Falke is proud to support this initiative and to be helping to raise awareness of the high expectations on doctors and health care professionals in South Africa and the impact it has on their well-being.

“We would like to start a conversation and raise awareness and open dialogue around doctors with mental health issues, and encourage them to seek help if they need it.”

“We encourage the whole of South Africa to support #CrazySocks4Docs happening on the 7th of June by wearing bright or mismatched socks and posting about it on social media with the hash tag #CrazySocks4Docs and #ithembafoundation.”

Study: Lack of sleep linked to anxiety and depression

“The #CrazySocks4Docs campaign is about shining a light on the highly stressful nature of the medical profession and reminding doctors that they must also ask for help when they need medical attention – whether it is physical or mental. We want to help reshape the culture in the medical industry and show doctors that their colleagues are there to support them when they need it. At the same time, we also want to encourage the rest of the world to help take care of those who care for them,” says Paul Miller, CEO of Cipla Medpro.

“Widespread change is needed to tackle the problem of depression and suicide that is so prevalent among medical students and practising healthcare professionals. Part of making a difference is to encourage conversations about mental health and help reduce the stigma for doctors and medical students experiencing mental illness. Wearing mis-matched socks may seem like a strange place to start affecting this change, but visibly showing our support for our carers is an important first step. We chose to partner with Falke and Cipla because they share these important values of starting conversations about Caring for our Carers,” says Professor Lizette Rabe, founder of Ithemba Foundation.

The Ithemba Foundation is a non-profit entity aimed at raising awareness of depression as a biological illness, and fundraising to support further research into this condition.

Get involved – show off your socks

You can get involved on Friday 7 June by posting a photo of yourself wearing mismatched, brightly-coloured, or just plain crazy socks, on social media with the hashtag, #CrazySocks4Docs and #ithembafoundation.

Medical students can even win R1 000 per medical campus with their “sock-selfies” – just post your “sock-selfie” and encourage your family and friends to like yours. On each of the participating campuses the “sock-selfie” with the most likes will win its owner R1 000.

If you or someone that you know suffers from a mental health condition, or has suicidal thoughts and is in need of help, you can 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.


  1. Outhoff, K. Depression in doctors?: A bitter pill to swallow. South African Fam. Pract.61, 13–16 (2019).
  2. Van Niekerk, L. Suicidal ideation and attempt among South African medical students. South African Med. J.102, 1–5 (2019).



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