By Natalie O’Brien

The elephant aims to start a conversation, Supplied: QUT News

A giant blow up elephant was a surprise delegate at a scientific gathering of anaesthetists today.

Up to 2000 anaesthetists today gathered in Brisbane for the annual scientific meeting of the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA), and one of the big topics on the agenda was metal health of professionals including students

One in five of medical students is  reported to have suicidal thoughts each year, a beyondblue study found.

There has been a push for awareness on mental health for medical students and professionals, with a grey blow-up elephant was placed in the middle of the main room to try and get people asking the question ‘are you okay?’


Study finds students are of higher risk

The National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students is the most recent study by beyondblue, conducted in 2013.

The statistics show the likelihood of mental health issues is higher among those who have not fully entered the profession.

University of Queensland medical student Jabelle Lu, says there is still a stigma when it comes to seeking help.

“I don’t think it’s talked about enough, especially in light of all the statistics regarding the high rates of depression and suicidal ideation among medical students,” she says.

She says more needs to be done for medical students in particular.

“We are a particularly vulnerable population not only because of the high-stress and high-workload environment but also because of the outrageous expectations and the perfectionism we often put upon ourselves,” she says.

“The advice given often doesn’t take into account the high workload and stress that is experienced day to day, and instead we are given more general advice such as how to be more mindful and have a healthier lifestyle.”

The event aims to lift the stigma

The annual event at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre keeps professionals up to date on everything happening within the industry.

Meeting convenor, Brisbane anaesthetist Dr Bridget Effeney says having so many professionals gathered in one place is a good opportunity to raise awareness.

“Big on our agenda… was to talk about the welfare of anaesthetists and the elephant in the room that is mental health, and the stigma that’s attached to it,” she says.

Dr Effeney says the spectacle of having the blow up animal, aids in starting a conversation.

“The elephant was the most effective tool I’ve ever seen to get people actually talking about whether or not they were okay… it was a real trigger to start that conversation,” she says.

She says there are numerous things which can be done to help reduce pressure.

“Adequate debriefing, proper mentoring, support within departments, adequate stress leave… good rostering, safe hours…structures and processes, but it’s also fluid conversation,” she says.

Welfare of Anaesthetists Special Interest Group co-founder and retired anaesthetist, Dr Diana Khursandi says more resources are needed to help medical students and professionals.

“I think one of the things that concerns us is that there should be adequate resources for medical students and students in general, so not only medical resources but counselling resources,” she says.

The beyondblue report found medical practitioners had higher rates of depression when compared to other Australian professionals.