On September 11th, Australia will celebrate R U OK? Day, an annual day of action to promote mental wellbeing. The idea behind this day is to encourage open and honest conversations, and to prevent small problems from spiralling into big ones.
R U OK? Day was founded by Australian mental health advocates Janina Nearn and the late Garry Larkin. Garry Larkin was driven to begin the suicide prevention organisation after the suicide of his father, and since the organisation began in 2009 it has become a national awareness day for mental health issues.
Someone who has dedicated their life to this issue and to the concept behind R U Ok? Day is United States academic Dr Thomas Joiner. Since his father took his own life, Dr Joiner has dedicated his life to researching “why?” The answer he believes is that two key forces are at play:
- A person may think they are a burden on others
- They have feelings of social alienation or feelings of not belonging
Dr Joiner believes that these two forces are commonly at the root of why people feel they have no option but to end their life. However, by connecting with them over the question R U OK? we can help people who are struggling to feel connected long before they progress to thinking about suicide.
On average, more than 2,300 Australians suicide each year (2012) and an estimated 65,000 people attempt suicide each year. Suicide is the biggest killer of Australians aged 15 to 34 years.
To decrease these numbers, mental health strategies such as R U OK? Day are essential. R U OK? Day encourages meaningful conversation. And a conversation like this could change a life.
What you can do to get involved
In the time it takes to share a cup of coffee, you can have a conversation that could make a significant difference to the way a person is feeling. People need to feel socially connected to friends, family, colleagues and schoolmates, and the best way to do this is to start by asking the question ‘Are you OK?’ These three simple words help you show compassion, provide a listening ear, improve mental health and strengthen community connections.
As well as simply asking the question, there are many ways to get involved with the R U OK? Day, and help to raise awareness or gather funds* to support this crucial not-for-profit organisation. Event and awareness ideas include:
- Host a morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea.
- Organise a casual clothes day with a yellow or orange theme.
- Arrange a team building exercise, such as sport or dancing.
- Allocate time to call a friend and ask the question ‘Are you OK?’
- Host a sausage sizzle and invite people walking by to join.
- Create conversation corners by decorating certain areas with yellow and orange.
- Arrange a photo shoot in which people gather to form R U OK? before being snapped from overhead. Share your photos with email@example.com.
- Organise a trivia competition.
- Encourage the use of #ruokday on instagram, twitter and Facebook accounts.
- Register for safeTALK, suicide awareness training.
- Invite a mental health professional to speak at your work or school.
- Organise an introductory mental health awareness seminar.
- Gather people together to watch the R U OK? video or presentation slide.
- Encourage staff to send an in-house email asking ‘Are you OK?’
- Download the R U OK? poster and hang in the staff room or classroom.
- Order R U OK? disposable coffee cups and hold a coffee meeting.
- Encourage everyone to wear a R U OK? lapel pin.
- Order a box of 250 R U OK? teabags and encourage people to share a cuppa with the person next to them.
- Stick an R U OK?, Mate? bumper sticker on your car to encourage cars behind to start a conversation.
- Organise a bowls day at your local bowling club.
- Have a dinner party with friends.
Sometimes helping someone is as simple as asking the question, so spread the word and make sure you ask the people you know – ‘Are you OK?’
*Make sure that you speak to the organisers of R U OK? Day before implementing any of these events, as there are some charity regulations you will need to follow.