By Kim O’Neill, CEO, On the Line.
RU OK? Day has grown to become a well-recognised national event, with fantastic levels of support in the community, but also broad support in the mental health sector. What is it about this event that can bring so many people together to support its cause?
About R U OK? day
R U OK? Day started in 2009, thanks to the tireless work of founder Gavin Larkin. Gavin lost his father to suicide in 1995 and decided to do something about the tragedy of suicide in our community. After an extensive search for the right message, Gavin arrived at a simple phrase that captured the essence of an action that anyone can take to help reduce suicide – “R U OK?”
Several documentaries, TV specials and national campaigns later, this iconic phrase and the movement that has grown around it has cemented its place in our national awareness.
What is the secret to R U OK? day success
The short answer is that it’s a very simple phrase that works on many levels:
- It’s accessible – anyone can do it.
- It reminds us to check in with our family, friends and colleagues.
- It underscores the fact that reaching out and showing that you care is one of the most effective ways you can help someone you care about.
- It breaks down the stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging all of us to talk about how we’re feeling.
Rallying to the cause
If there is one key message the mental health sector would like to get across to the community, it’s that talking about your feelings and emotions is the best thing any of us can do. Talking about your feelings with someone who cares is not only helpful in suicide prevention, but it’s been shown to be a useful tactic for dealing with a variety of challenges, from reducing stress, anxiety and depression, to addressing violent and anti-social behaviour, and more severe and chronic mental health issues. It’s the foundation of many current approaches to psychotherapy or ‘talk therapy’, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy (IPT), and lived experience storytelling.
R U OK? demonstrates that everyone can play a part in suicide prevention, just by checking in with those they care about. No special qualifications, training or expertise is needed, just listening and showing people that you care. If you’re worried about someone, all it takes is a direct question about whether they’re having suicidal thoughts. Asking them will mostly be met with a sense of relief that it’s OK to talk about how they’re feeling. Asking this question of people who aren’t having suicidal thoughts won’t suddenly put the idea in their heads. The most important thing is to create the opportunity for people to share how they’re feeling and give the space to talk openly, without interruption or fear of judgement.
Learn more about how to best support someone
As CEO of On the Line, I have long endorsed a social health approach to working with mental health and wellbeing issues. Strong, nurturing relationships are a powerful protective factor in maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing, and addressing issues as they arise. And the most powerful relationship of all is the relationship we each have with ourselves.
A friendly ear and feeling supported can mean the difference between finding healthy ways to cope with a stressful life event and escalation into something more serious. I see this in action every day and it works!
Make every day R U OK? day
I encourage everyone to support R U OK Day, but also encourage each of you to go further. Don’t stop at one day. Making the practice of ‘checking in’ with people you care about and talking openly about the challenges we all face every day is something we can all do that will go a long way to improving the lives of those we car about and to the health of our society.