Let’s not forget about mental health, let’s keep the conversation going

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By Michael Sabater:

Like a solid Snapstreak, let’s keep the conversation going and encourage positive mental health.

R U OK? Day is over and the colour and excitement from the event has passed – at least until next year. But that doesn’t mean the conversation has to end. Recognising people who may be struggling and encouraging proactive attitudes to managing mental health remains as important now as any day of the year.

In a crowded calendar, any organisation will find it had to get their message across. That is why most choose to focus their issue around a particular period of time, so it may stand out – even for a period as small as a day. Most thrive on this quick and loud mentality – think Jeans for Genes Day or the World’s Greatest Shave. These events come to take on a life of their own, becoming a reminder on the calendar and prompting action.

The aim of the R U OK? organisation is to encourage Australians to connect with people in the community they may have concerns about, encouraging them to seek further help and to follow up to ensure support is being provided.

R U OK? encourages responsible public discussion of social isolation and its negative consequences such as suicide. The key message is that social connectedness and positive help seeking can assist people in crisis and is a community responsibility. The key focal point is R U OK? Day, which is held once a year.

R U OK? Day is a fantastic occasion that serves as a reminder for all of us to ask one simple question: “Are you ok?”, to a friend, a relative or even a complete stranger. In reality suicide prevention is a complex and sensitive issue. So, wrapping it up into a short, simple, gentle, but no less powerful line makes the topic all the more palatable for us to handle.

However, while it is a terrific initiative, raising awareness without prompting action is useless. Awareness is a start, but ensuring people take action is key. So, while R U OK? Day provides a much needed push, it is not a solution within itself. It’s more of a starting block for accepting the severity of mental illness and a springboard for encouraging action. Yet, every cause, no matter how big, has a humble beginning.

According to crisis support and suicide prevention service ‘LifeLine’, one in five of us will suffer from a mental illness in any given year. Furthermore, suicide remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44.

Asking that one question and showing someone going through a tough time they aren’t alone may make a world of difference. It could be a life saving conversation. What’s more, educating yourself in recognising mental illness and being able to assist with the management of mental health is an exceptionally valuable thing.

Rowena Saheb, Western Sydney University’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions Coordinator, championed the idea around R U OK? Day: that of starting a meaningful conversation. But Saheb made clear it’s essential to not only start a dialogue, but to continue it throughout the day and throughout the year.

On having a conversation with someone about mental health, Saheb recommended starting with the basics. “You start with asking ‘Are you ok?’. You listen without judgement to what the person says. Take your time, don’t rush them through it, just be an ear for them. If you do hear they have anything that they are concerned with, or if you are concerned for their wellbeing, try and encourage them to engage in help seeking behaviour,” she said.

“For our students, we encourage all of them to engage with counselling. We have wonderful counsellors that are here, not only if you are going through a difficult time, but even if you want to start engaging in some preventative health behaviours that can build your resilience against mental health issues.”

“Lastly, if you do speak with someone and have a conversation and they do flag that they are experiencing difficulties, follow up on them, speak to them later on and see if there is anything else you can do.”

Saheb added, “The University is here to always help. We take a really strong interest in the mental health and well-being of our students. We have a strategy, we have a team dedicated to it, and we’re here to support the students and staff.”

For more informational about R U OK?, visit ruok.org.au

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