November 30, 2022

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R U OK? A conversation that can change a life

3 min read

The pressure on Australian household budgets as inflation spirals upwards is the latest reminder of how important it is to ask our loved ones, “Are you okay?” R U OK Day is an Australian invention where we’re encouraged to ask questions proactively.

Perhaps because of this country’s history of stoicism, especially amongst older men, this day is critical to making sure people are given an opportunity to speak up when they’re not right.

Mental health is a crisis, no doubt about it. Suicide kills more than 3,000 Australians every year, leaving hundreds of thousands of secondary survivors. It is the number one cause of death for young Australians.

Credits: RUOK.org

While there are many causes for mental health trouble, one reliable predictor is economic hardship. When you can’t pay your bills, you can’t keep the lights on, the fridge stocked, and the kids clothed.

You’ll find people who have held the levers of economic power, be they fiscal or monetary, will tell you of their responsibility regarding health outcomes. There’s a certain amount of data to suggest that with every interest rate hike, a certain number of people will die from suicide. This is a critical time for mental health.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We know from experience, especially as Australians who are also known for their generosity, that when someone puts their hand up and says they’re not right, the community rallies to them.

Suddenly the lights are on because someone’s covering the power bills for a while. The fridge is stocked because neighbouring families are expanding their Sunday night cookup to make sure there are some leftovers. And the kids are clothed because there’s a bag of donations on the front doorstep.

But none of this happens unless someone says, “I’m not okay.” And while some of us are blessed with the initiative to say so, many of us need to be given a nudge. There’s no one path to mental health happiness. For everyone, it is an individual journey, and like any journey has its twists and turns.

When offering help, saying ‘let me know if you need anything possibly isn’t as helpful as we might think because there are no boundaries to that. Instead, try saying, ‘I’m here for you and checking in periodically.

Don’t underestimate how much happiness an unexpected phone call to check in and say ‘hello’ brings to the recipient. Relationships need maintenance, and that means making time and making time means effort. And with a little bit of effort, you can deliver much happiness to the person you reach out to.

Make sure to ask someone, “are you okay” today and follow up with them in the weeks and months ahead. This economic uncertainty is going to continue for a while yet. We all have to look out for each other.

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