OPINION

More than ever, we need to ask R U OK?

BEGINNING: Far from being superficial, R U OK? Day can start a conversation that otherwise may never have taken place.
BEGINNING: Far from being superficial, R U OK? Day can start a conversation that otherwise may never have taken place.

This week, many Australians may well have what turns out to be the most important conversation of their lives.

Thursday, September 10 is R U OK? Day - a day dedicated to encouraging Australians to connect with others who may be experiencing mental health issues, and especially those who may even be contemplating suicide. Started in Australia in 2009 by the late Gavin Larkin only two years before his own death from cancer, R U OK? Day is one of the most significant events on the calendar for many Australians.

I admit it - and not many of us would deny - it is not easy to talk about suicide. But we need to, especially this year.

The pressure so many Australians are feeling right now may make this year's R U OK? Day the most important yet.

Earlier this week, a graphic suicide video went viral on popular social media app, TikTok. What made the sharing of this video so nefarious and unstoppable was that some TikTok users spliced the video into unrelated clips, meaning people might see the footage without intending to when it pops up on their "For You" page.

Last year, the Productivity Commission - examining deficiencies in Australia's mental health system - noted 25 per cent of people who attempt suicide will try again. The risk of relapse is significantly higher in the first three months.

The chief executive of the Mental Health Commission, and the prime minister's adviser on suicide prevention, Christine Morgan last year said there were three stigmas facing those who had attempted to end their own lives: personal shame, societal stigma and structural stigma.

Ms Morgan spelled out her discoveries: "One of the things that shocked me the most, and this is horrific, is stigma. It's not lack of awareness ... it's other people's attitudes, which is societal stigma, and it's actual structural stigma, and I call that discrimination - it's [fear] of what happens to me if I disclose this."

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed 75 per cent of deaths by suicide involve men. Although the rate among women is much lower, the unseen tragedy in this figure is that the female numbers increased 31 per cent from 2009-18. Suicide is still the leading cause of death among young Australians 15-24 years at 40 per cent.

You may not think your visit, phone call or text message can make much of a difference to someone who is contemplating the worst decision of their life. Thankfully, the experts tell us otherwise ... if a person is struggling, by reaching out and connecting with them you could very well save their life.

Jesus taught us "do not to worry about tomorrow" but rather, focus on today. This is very good advice, as almost all anxieties are born out of our worrying about the future. Maybe that the future can never be as good as the past, or worrying about future events that may or may not happen.

R U OK? Day has its critics. It's been suggested that, while well-meaning, it has a superficial and simplistic focus on informal health promotion.

But I don't think broaching this subject is ever superficial and is far from simple if the answer is "no".

It has also been argued that one day a year is not enough. I don't think anyone is saying it is. R U OK? Day can start a conversation that otherwise may never have taken place.

Melbourne's current lockdown is one of the longest and strictest in the world. But while you may not be able to cross the border into Victoria (or vice versa), your phone calls and texts can.

You may not think your visit, phone call or text message can make much of a difference to someone who is contemplating the worst decision of their life. Thankfully, the experts tell us otherwise.

Beyond Blue has made it clear that you don't need to be a clinician, GP or nurse to check-in with someone you're worried about. And, if a person is struggling, by reaching out and connecting with them you could very well save their life. If someone asks you "are you OK?" and you're really not, don't be afraid to tell them. Sometimes, the bravest word in the world is "help!"

This R U OK? Day be sure to ask someone "are you OK?" Perhaps you may never do so much good with so little effort.

Twitter: @frbrendanelee

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