Nationwide Initiative Encourages Genuine Listening and Support for Mental Health
Australians from all corners of the country are uniting today to observe R U OK?Day, a national initiative aimed at emphasizing the importance of meaningful conversations with friends, family, and colleagues. The theme for this year’s R U OK?Day is ‘R U OK?, I’m here to hear,’ highlighting the critical role of listening in genuine and authentic conversations.
Numerous events are taking place throughout the nation, organized by community groups, workplaces, schools, suicide prevention networks, and sports clubs, all championing the core message that listening attentively is the key to initiating a sincere R U OK? conversation.
At midday today (AEST), R U OK? will stream a free virtual event for R U OK?Day, featuring personal stories from individuals with lived experiences of mental health challenges and practical tips for engaging in meaningful conversations. These tips include the four essential steps of an R U OK? conversation, abbreviated as ALEC: Ask, Listen, Encourage action, and Check in.
Eric Cruz, a 40-year-old from South Australia, exemplifies the impact of these conversations. As an R U OK? volunteer community ambassador, his passion for mental health awareness derives from his own struggles with anxiety and depression. He shared, “I vividly recall when somebody asked me [the question] when I was in a dark place in my life. The question, ‘are you OK?,’ those three words, made me feel less isolated.”
The ‘R U OK?, I’m here to hear’ theme was developed in response to research highlighting the profound effect a genuine conversation can have on someone facing mental health challenges. The research revealed that more than four in five people who engaged in such conversations felt better about managing their situations, feeling supported, heard, and safe during the discussions.
However, the study also unveiled that two in five respondents who claimed to be ‘OK’ were actually not. Trust, authenticity, and a suitable environment were identified as the three leading factors that would encourage individuals to open up and feel comfortable discussing their mental health and wellbeing.
R U OK? CEO Katherine Newton emphasized the importance of authenticity in these conversations: “For an R U OK? conversation to be life-changing, and potentially lifesaving, it must be authentic. You need to ask this question because you mean it, because you care about the person you’re asking, and because you genuinely want to listen to the answer.”
The Suicide Prevention Australia September 2023 Community Tracker revealed distressing statistics, with 29% of respondents knowing someone who had died by or attempted suicide in the past year, and one in seven reporting experiencing suicidal behavior during the same period. Cost-of-living and personal debt remained significant factors contributing to distress.
Ms. Newton acknowledged the ongoing challenges faced by Australians, stating, “It’s important for us to recognize that the people we care about may be feeling ongoing effects, long after something has happened to them. We need to let them know we’re still here to hear.”
To further spread the message of R U OK?Day 2023, traditional and social media platforms are actively participating, and a wide range of free resources are available on the R U OK? website.
These resources are designed to support individuals across various life stages and settings, including new parents, students, young people, grassroots sporting communities, workplaces, and the elderly. Specialized resources are also available for specific communities, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the LGBTIQ+ community.
This year, R U OK? has expanded its resources to include materials in multiple languages, Auslan (Australian Sign Language), and a new hub to support neurodivergent individuals.
For anyone in need of immediate support, Lifeline offers free and confidential crisis support services 24/7. You can call 13 11 14, text 0477 13 11 14, or chat online at lifeline.org.au. Additionally, 13YARN is a free 24/7 service providing crisis support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, reachable at 13YARN (13 92 76).