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AU News

AU Graduate Dr. Daniel Gearon Forms Suicide Prevention Organization in U.K.

June 16, 2021
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Following a family tragedy, Dr. Daniel Gearon, a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, founded an organization dedicated to preventing suicide among physicians.

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A graduate of the Anderson University College of Arts and Sciences helps those who heal seek healing for themselves.

After receiving his communication degree in 2008 from Anderson University, Dr. Daniel Gearon set his sights on medicine, which took him back to his native England. 

Dr. Gearon, who is currently a core surgical trainee for cardiothoracic surgery at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, England, came to Anderson University to play on the Trojans Men’s Tennis Team. Attending Saddlebrook Tennis Academy in Florida since age 16, he wanted to remain stateside and attend a university in the U.S. 

“There were a few other universities in the mix and Anderson seemed like the nicest place to me. They had a great tennis team,” Dr. Gearon said. 

It was at Anderson University where the idea to study medicine took hold, Dr. Gearon recalls.

“I remember thinking I didn’t want to be a tennis coach—that wasn’t a passion of mine,” he said. “I thought actually I would like to go and work in developing countries as a doctor overseas, and I remember thinking that, pretty much on the graduation from Anderson University. My dad said, ‘What are you going to do next?’ I said, ‘I think I’m going to try and be a doctor.’”

Dr. Gearon did some volunteer work in Ghana and later earned a biochemistry/pre-med degree at another institution in the Upstate before returning to the United Kingdom for medical school.

When Dr. Gearon was finishing medical school, he shadowed his cousin, Liz, who was a consultant anaesthetist at a London hospital. He looked up to Liz as a mentor and says they became close at that time, probably more so than with most cousins.

When Dr. Gearon graduated from medical school, he went to work at Ipswitch Hospital in Cambridge. When he was in his second year as a doctor, Dr. Gearon received news that rocked his world. 

“I remember when I heard about Liz taking her own life,” he said. “It’s a very different type of grieving process that you go through. Although I continued with my work, it made me step outside of my own world a bit and analyze what I was doing and what I was focused on.”

Globally, doctors have a significantly higher suicide rate over those engaged in other professions. According to recent statistics from the British Medical Journal, a doctor commits suicide in the U.K. every three to four weeks.

After losing his cousin to suicide, Dr. Gearon began thinking about the idea for a charity that would provide a support structure, a safe community where doctors can speak freely about what’s troubling them and get help from caring, qualified counselors, psychiatrists and others. 

“I felt what was being offered in the U.K. was good, but I thought that we could offer something slightly different, so that’s when we went ahead,” said Dr. Gearon, who contacted Chris Cherry, a psychotherapist he’s known for several years, about being a trustee. Another trustee is Derrick Denard, who was a business partner of Dr. Gearon’s father. He knew Denard deeply cared about mental health and was experienced with charity work. Another trustee is Dr. Meenal Galal, an emergency medicine consultant at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

With their help and the help of others, the charity, named You okay, doc? became a U.K.-registered charity in August, 2019. 

“It was slow progress until December, then the pandemic hit in March 2020,” Dr. Gearon said. “Obviously when the pandemic hit, we thought we were in a really good place to start offering services immediately for doctors, and that’s what we started doing.”

Among the charity’s services are a 24-hour helpline and online huddles for doctors to seek support from others. They also provide a variety of resources related to doctor wellbeing and produce a podcast. 

Before long, You okay, doc? was gaining attention beyond Cambridge when BBC London aired a story about the charity, which was then broadcast nationally across the U.K. 

“We had some amazing media exposure; I mean it was huge, the BBC News article,” Dr. Gearon said. “Beverley Knight and Joss Stone have done a song with 500 other musicians that you can download on Spotify and 50 percent of the donations goes toward You okay doc? and the other 50 percent goes toward NHS (National Health Service) charities together. That was an amazing thing to have back-to-back last year. It was unbelievable the publicity that it brought to us.” 

In founding You okay, doc?, Dr. Gearon readily drew from his experience as a communication major at Anderson University.

“As the founder I was doing the finances and also the social media and things like that. I did find—and the team noticed—that my eye for how things should look was pretty in line with how the designer wanted it when he came up with the logo,” he said. “I definitely think that has come from the communications major I did with Anderson University. Spending those years in the media lab doing copy editing and all of that stuff has definitely helped, but I didn’t realize that until probably about three or four months ago.”

Dr. Gearon also feels his involvement in sports has greatly influenced his approach to medicine and You okay, doc?

“Throughout my life, tennis and sport have been interwoven and the lessons learned from these experiences have directly shaped the offerings we offer to doctors.” Additional studies in entrepreneurship at Cambridge played a role in his founding the charity.

Dr. Gearon continues to practice medicine while providing leadership for the charity. Because of the pandemic, he feels You okay, doc? is needed now more than ever. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he was re-deployed to an intensive care unit at Royal Papworth Hospital. The pandemic had Dr. Gearon and his colleagues facing new challenges.

“They aren’t just my anxieties, but many doctors have said you get anxiety about your (rotation) changing; you never know when you’re going to work or when you’re going to be off. It’s not ideal to have a surgeon working in intensive care but that was the way it was. All of those added pressures of working in unknown territories with a new condition that you haven’t seen before … There’s just a lot of uncertainty. The support structure that doctors do have, that’s working within their team, working within a familiar area,” Dr. Gearon said. We always really want to care for our patients, but we’re not going to be able to care for our patients if we can’t look after ourselves.” 

Dr. Gearon’s memories of life at Anderson are happy ones.

“Anderson’s got a great sense of community; just the campus as a whole has got a really good community feel to it,” he said. “I remember you felt like everyone kind of knew everyone. I remember the professors being really nice and well informed—that was enjoyable. I really enjoyed the tennis, the climate. South Carolina is quite relaxed.”

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