R U OK? Day a reminder to reach out

Anastasia Tsirtsakis

10/09/2020 3:55:03 PM

It is more important than ever to check in with family and friends this year. Lifting the mental burden can start with a simple question.

Woman having online meeting
With so many isolated, asking ‘Are you okay?’ can go a long way to helping people in need.

‘Are you okay?’
This can seem like a very simplistic question, particularly in the midst of a pandemic.  
But sometimes that it is the only thing needed to start to lift the mental burden someone may be feeling, according to Associate Professor Craig Hassed, a GP and Senior Lecturer at Monash University.
‘Social isolation can have a very negative effect on mental health, so at any time, but especially in times of adversity, we need meaningful connections and relationships with others,’ he said.
‘Just reaching out to others, showing that we are genuinely interested and care, can make a massive difference to that sense of isolation.’
R U OK? Day, held annually on the second Thursday of September, was co-founded in 2009 by Gavin Larkin to honour his father Barry Larkin, who died by suicide in 1995.
Fittingly, this year the national campaign coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day.
Eight people die by suicide in Australia every day, with more than 65,000 attempts each year.
While there is arguably more information and awareness about mental health than ever before, it can still be challenging to broach a conversation about someone’s mental health.
When is it the right time? And what if the person responds that they are not okay?
The theme of this year’s R U OK? Day is focused on keeping the conversation going when someone says they are not okay. 
‘We … acknowledge that sometimes you might feel a little uncomfortable or awkward if someone says they’re not okay,’ R U OK? CEO Katherine Newton said.
‘That’s an understandable reaction and it’s why this year we’re reminding Australians there’s more to say after R U OK? and encouraging them to learn what to say next.
‘It’s important we know how to keep the conversation going, because a conversation really can change a life.’
The national campaign encourages people to:

  • Ask – ‘Are you okay?’
  • Listen with an open mind – ‘I’m here to listen if you want to talk more’ and ‘Have you been feeling this way for a while?’
  • Encourage action – ‘Have you thought about speaking to your doctor about this?’ and ‘What do you think is a first step that would help you through this?’
  • Check in – ‘Just wanted to check in and see how you’re going?’ and ‘Have things improved or changed since we last spoke?’
A number of GPs took to Twitter to spread the message, including RACGP Acting President Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda.  
Dr Tim Senior, a GP and Medical Advisor for RACGP Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, reminded people to see their GP for any mental health concerns.
The Federal Government launched suicide prevention after-care services across the country, and committed $19 million to extend leading national suicide prevention services.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt urged Australians to engage with others and join together to spread awareness.
‘I encourage all Australians to take a minute to think about mental health and how they and the people around them are coping with life’s demands,’ he said. ‘It is okay to talk about suicidality, and to assist others reach out for support.
‘As well as urging Australians to reach out to others, I encourage anyone going through tough times to reach out for help, whether in person, through telehealth or a phone or online services.’
Dr Anna Kokavec, a psychologist and academic lead student support at James Cook University, reminded people to also take the time to reflect on their own mental health.
‘After all, it is only when “I am okay” that I have something left over to give to others,’ she said.
‘How you feel is important too, so don’t put yourself last. How we treat ourselves needs to be the yard stick we use in order to decide how to treat others.’
Associate Professor Hassed encouraged people to engage in mindfulness practices to foster good mental and physical health, and to try to savour the ‘simple pleasures in life’.
‘Poor mental health is not just related to the way we think – as important as that is – it is also related to the lifestyle we lead,’ he said.
‘Good sleep, exercise, diet, connection with others – all these are mental health interventions in themselves.’
More information and resources can be accessed on the R U OK? Day website.
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