Mind Connections Specialists Health Services establishes an Annual award for mental health for the 2nd year medical students at WSU.

The theme:

“Cultivate your Mind,”
“Cultivate your Life,”
That’s what everyone said.
So, I kept the Elephant IN MY ROOM!

Dr Padmini Howpage

The inception of this award was prompted by a pressing need to address the alarming rate of suicide among young doctors. The year 2016 witnessed the tragic loss of four young doctors within three months, casting a shadow of trauma, grief, and sorrow over the medical community. This profound loss sparked a wave of frustration and isolation among many, as the underlying issues within medical culture remained unaddressed.

Suicide is not a choice; it is the devastating outcome of unbearable pain driven by many factors beyond illness. Social, cultural, and political pressures and adversities play a significant role, eventually costing young professionals their lives. Doctors face immense pressures from high workloads, long hours, and emotional tolls of patient care. High expectations, rigorous training, workplace stress, and cultural stigma against seeking help contribute to mental strain. Financial burdens, lack of work-life balance, isolation, and administrative demands exacerbate their challenges.

Driven by a desire to prevent further tragedies, Padmini and Daya took a proactive stance, partnering with Western Sydney University (WSU) to establish this award. Since 2017, second-year medical students at Faculty of Medicine, WSU have engaged with mental health topics as an integral part of their curriculum. This award serves as a platform for students to critically examine and express their experiences with mental health issues through creative mediums.

The selection of winners is carried out by academic staff, and the annual award ceremony at WSU has become a cherished event by Padmini and Daya. Through this initiative, they hope to instil a sense of agency among medical students, encourage them to prioritize their mental well-being and support their peers from the onset of their careers.

They thank the Dean, the academic staff at the Faculty of Medicine, and Western Sydney University for transforming the lives of young medical students by incorporating the Elephant, a metaphor for the medical student’s addled mind, into the curriculum. This project is a significant step towards a much-needed culture change in how students perceive and evaluate their own mental health.

It is a worthwhile project, which will eventually spread wings. 

2018 inaugural prize winner
Inaugural award winner 2018 Nirodhi with Drs. Daya and Padmini Howpage

My Son Asclepius by Nirodhi

Lay a rose.
In this hateful stone garden of lost opportunities
death lingers where life will not follow
Like a petal falls unnoticed
final words and intentions are forgotten,
swept into the silence of time

you chose to sink with leaden feet
And diffuse back into the earth from which you came
These immortal stones tether a mere fraction of your fleeing soul
To be remembered
And then forgotten

The weight of living
Of carrying the facades of personality
A burden I would have shared
If you had just asked
Why could you not just be?

The stethoscope a noose around your neck
You became just as pale and grey
As those cadavers you’d pour over
More knowledge, more still and yet still not enough for you
In the final hours of darkness the hangman bides his time in the pages of your books

Pharmacology intoxicated you
Geriatrics aged you
Cardiology broke my heart
I watched as you withered
Unrecognisable as the fresh faced youth who began this journey

I did not know then

You lost one under the sterilised lights of an OR
And another
Still you said nothing
Buried deep in your own grey clouds

Did you believe yourself to be so invincible?
You are no god
But the same blood, flesh and bones as me
When did you become too old to hold my hand?
I would have pulled you from those turbulent waters

I could not hold you down and pinch your nose
As I had when you were a child
Yet it seemed that you were still playing at Kings and Queens
In your white gowned might
Stoic in the face of plebeian tragedy

You were slipping
Forgetting that the unflinching doctor you had become
Began as my baby
Frightened of needles
Cajoled by a kind heart and jelly beans

Your demons have disappeared
But by your own doing so too have you
They wander aimlessly with no soul to torture but mine
So now I lay a rose on a cold grave
And petals fall unnoticed

2019 prize winner

Medical Students Burden by Angela Lee

2019 winner – painting by Angela Lee

My creative piece seeks to depict my personal understanding and experiences with mental illness, whilst also hopefully allowing others some insight into what mental health for a medical student can feel like. It is apparent that the compromised well-being of medical students is a widespread issue, with more than four in 10 students likely to have a minor psychiatric disorder and one in five medical students having considered suicide in the past year. The salient feature of my painting is the doors looming over the protagonist. The use of negative space juxtaposed against the dark colour reflect the uncontrollable sense of doom those with mental illness often experience. Those experiencing depression and anxiety can often feel as though they are in a pit from which they cannot escape, and this sense of misery can manifest in the form of lethargy and tiredness, as exhibited by the body language of the protagonist. The doors in the picture portray the multitude of pathways, choices and doubts that are present in our minds. As a medical student, I feel as though I have been afforded a great opportunity to study a degree many are passionate about. However, with this opportunity I have developed numerous reservations towards my capabilities, the pathways I have chosen and doubts about my identity as a medical student. A constant nagging feeling of being “worse than others” is often present. Over time these doubts and worries can become overwhelming, a point I seek to emphasise through the overlapping vectors of the doors. The consuming nature of a mental illness is further elucidated through the dripping blackness surrounding the protagonist. The positioning of the window in the corner surrounded by locked doors and the use of light colours represent a sense of energy and happiness that feels impossible to obtain when going through periods of compromised mental well-being. Mental illness is still heavily stigmatized, with over 44% of doctors and medical students surveyed by beyond blue agreeing that experiencing depression or anxiety disorder is a sign of weakness and are less likely to appoint doctors with a history of medical illness1. The numerous eyes peering at the protagonist symbolises the judgment of others. This stigma prevalent in the medical community can make it difficult for medical students to admit any signs of psychiatric disorder and seek the relevant help. Destigmatizing mental illness, providing information and making the relevant resources accessible for those suspecting they may have mental illnesses is crucial for improving student well-being.

2020 prize winner

‘Cassie’ by Ling Peng (2021 winner)

[Verse 1] – When I was in my second year of med school
I stood amongst my peers at a funeral
And tears ran down my face when I saw our friend CassieI
thought of how she always seemed so free
And about all the signs that I didn’t see
Now I wander how many of us dream of never waking

[Bridge 1] – But how did we end up here?
Aren’t we supposed to be made of bulletproof
Glass that just doesn’t shatter
We’ve been taught that our stress doesn’t matter

[Chorus] – So let’s just talk
About that brave face
Insisting we’re fine as that warm summer’s dayI
guess I’d always thought
That the stress is common so it must be meant to be
And the truth is we shouldn’t pretend
Our poor mental health is just a normal thing

[Verse 2] – There’s a common idea in practice
Even dad said not to talk about my poor health
Said ‘it affects reputation and might ruin your future chances’

[Bridge 2] – But how did we end up here?
Aren’t we supposed to be the ones who understand
That your health’s important
And you need to ask for help even if you think you’ve somehow failed

[Chorus] – So let’s just talk
About that brave face
Insisting we’re fine as that warm summer’s day
I guess I’d always thought
That the stress is common so it must be meant to be
And the truth is we shouldn’t pretend
Our poor mental health is just a normal thing

[Verse 3] – Now I guess that we’re trying to fix this

To help ourselves when we’re standing on the brink
We’re taught of self-care and strategies to face our demons

[Bridge 3] – But how did we end up here?
Self-care just seems like a temporary
Gauze to hide the problem
Of med culture inherently fostering poor mental health

[Chorus] – So let’s just talk
About that brave face
Insisting we’re fine as that warm summer’s dayI
guess I’d always thought
That the stress is common so it must be meant to be
And the truth is we shouldn’t pretend
Our poor mental health is just a normal thing
[Verse 4] – I can’t help but wonder for Cassie?
And thinkif we were more open about our mental health?
That maybe in three years she’d be graduating with me
But the real issue’s even scarier

To fix a problem that you couldn’t see
A problem that involves an environment that breeds insanity

[Outro] – But howdid I end up here?
I wish that I was made of bulletproof glass
That doesn’t shatter
Because I’m sick of pretending
My stress doesn’t matter

So can we please just talk about the elephant in my room
Please can we talk about the elephant in my room
In my room

2021 prize winner
Tatum Faber Link PDF What does receiving this award mean to you? It is validation that I am doing something right. It is acknowledgement that my experiences, which inspired the piece that I created for this award, should not be normalised in the competitive field of medicine. It is support for me to continue my advocacy for people and particularly medical students, with disabilities. Is there anything else you would like to say to your donor? Thank you for seeing that medical students and doctors aren’t super-humans, and are more likely to have mental health difficulties than the general public. Normalising discussing mental health is incredibly important, especially in groups where mental health is so highly stigmatised. I have been advised not to discuss my mental health as it may hurt my career. If that doesn’t show stigma, I don’t know what does. I hope that this can change for the current generation and all those to come.
2022 prize winner
Pawsitive Steps Towards Mental Health

Each year, the Hills Shire community from all walks of life rally around the Pawsitive Steps Mind, Doggy and Spirit Festival. The unique and innovative Pawsome-Awesome Day provides education and support, enhances help-seeking behaviour, and addresses the prevention of suicide and violence in the community. Since its inception in 2011, Mind Connections Specialist Health Services remains a proud partner of the festival.

For more information, visit the website: 


Mind Connections Specialist Health Services has a long-standing affiliation with Western Sydney University (WSU). Medical students enrolled in Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree, Faculty of medicine, WSU attend clinical placements and conduct research under the supervision of our clinicians.

The Mind Connections Foundation was established in August 2020. The programs are focused on enhancing our community’s mental health and well-being by promoting awareness and evidence-based research. Mind Connections Specialist Health Services is a proud partner of the Mind Connections Foundation.

For more information, visit the website: 

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