By Deanne Stindl:
September 10th! An annual day on which we are encouraged to ask each other, R U OK? A day to connect with friends, family members or even someone you have just met, by starting the conversation and asking, R U OK?, in a meaningful way. Taking the time to engage with a person regularly has the potential to make a significant difference to someone who may be struggling. This is the driving force behind R U OK day. Founded by Australian Gavin Larkin in 2009, R U OK Day is a not-for-profit organisation that was created by Larkin after the death (from suicide) of his father in 2005.
R U OK Day has joined forces with experts in suicide prevention and mental health as well as collaboratively working with government departments, corporate leaders, teachers, universities, students and community groups.
The World Health Organisation states that over 800,000 people die from suicide every year; that’s one person every 40 seconds. However these deaths are preventable. R U OK DAY was created to increase awareness of suicide and how to prevent it.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare states that in Australia there are over 65,000 suicide attempts every year, with around 45% of Australians experiencing mental illness in their life time. Some 20% of Australians are affected each year.
So what is mental health? What does it mean?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realises their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and can make a contribution to their community”. Mental health can enable one to fully enjoy and appreciate day-to-day life, other people and the surrounding environment. Mental health is how we think, feel and act, and how we choose to deal with stress or certain situations. Throughout the different stages of life mental health is fundamental.
Unfortunately, although it is common knowledge that mental health is a positive health attribute, we often position discussion of mental health as discussion of mental ill health. This creates a barrier in help-seeking behaviour. Why do we attach a social stigma to mental health and relate it to ill health?
There is an underlying benefit from meaningful conversations on mental health. These benefits range from early identification, support, networking and even friendship, and can protect us against the onset of mental ill health.
Mental ill health is as debilitating as physical ill health. The World Health Organisation has developed a burden of disease ranking, in which the degree of disability during an episode of mental illness can be compared to that caused by a physical illness:
• The disability caused by moderate depression is similar to the impact of relapsing MS, severe asthma or chronic hep B.
• The disability from severe post-traumatic stress disorder is comparable to the disability from paraplegia.
• The disability from severe schizophrenia is comparable to quadriplegia
The AIHW reports the rate of suicide for young people has risen, accounting for 37% of deaths in young people aged under 24. This finding reinforces the need for new, innovative and engaging interventions targeting young people, potentially in a university environment, to promote help seeking behaviour.
With this in mind, the Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotions team of Student Support Services is developing and currently trialling components of a Mental Health and Well-being Student Ambassador Program. Referencing evidence that peer-to-peer mental health promotion is a successful avenue in increasing awareness of mental health and wellbeing information, the program aims to deliver student-led promotions.
As one of the eight Mental Health and Wellbeing Ambassadors, we aim to utilise events like R U OK day to remove the stigma associated with mental ill health, and support those who need assistance. If even one person can benefit from this program, then we have achieved success.
On September 10, be primed to ask the question! Be willing to engage your friends, family, fellow students or staff members in a meaningful conversation! Be a mindful listener! Be prepared to tell someone how you are! Be ready to use this day to begin regular conversations with people, on how they are.
Brendan Maher, the general manager of R U OK, said: “This most important thing you can do if you feel like you’re in a rut or feel the pressure of the load, is to reach out to a friend or family member, or take advantage of the range of support services at your university. Whether they’re personal things or academic concerns, or a mixture of both, there’s a lot of help available at Australian universities. If you think a friend is struggling, take the time to ask them if they’re ok? Even if they’re reluctant to talk at first, tell them you’re there to support them whenever they are ready.”
Acting head of counselling Mark Kearns said: “Mental health problems are common and young people at university can certainly be affected. It can sometimes be hard for people to reach out if they are having problems, so having the confidence to ask someone R U OK, might create an opportunity for them to get some support and assistance. I would hope that people feel comfortable with asking this question 365 days per year.”
Remember, ‘‘a conversation could change a life! ’’
If you have any concerns about your mental health or wellbeing or the wellbeing of another student, please contact Student Support Services on 02 9852 5199.