R U OK? Day Forces Us To Address Mental Health

Today is World Suicide Prevention day and R U OK? Day in Australia, so it’s a time to reach out, speak out and raise awareness about the impact of mental illness.

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As someone who has previously suffered with depression, I am fully aware of the stigma that comes with telling someone that you have a mental illness. “You just need to start thinking positive…You’re just going through a rough patch…What’s so bad about your life?” Reaching out and trying to explain to someone that your depressive state isn’t in fact circumstantial, is really, really hard.

In my case, there was absolutely nothing wrong with my life. In fact, I was in a good place; yet every day I struggled to find any joy. I went to bed tired and emotional, I woke up tired and emotional, and every day I felt like I was walking around with a toxic fog over my brain. Literally, my head felt congested ALL THE TIME. It was as if depression had taken the driver’s seat of my life while I sat captive as the passenger trying to find a way out.

Unfortunately, a common misconception about people suffering with a mental illness is that they don’t do anything to make themselves feel better; or worse, that they choose to live this way. Sadly, this is the stigma that makes speaking out so hard. Creating a safe space to be heard and understood with initiatives like R U OK? Day is absolutely a positive step towards combating this, but we need to remember to check in with family and friends throughout the other 364 days of the year, also.

Did you know that around 20 per cent of adults are affected by some form of mental disorder every year, or that there’s approximately 200 suicide attempts every day? How about the fact that men account for every 3 out of 5 deaths by suicide? The worst part of all this is that suicide can be preventable with early intervention, however there’s still not enough being done to help.

Black Dog Institute director professor Helen Christensen told the ABC: “Suicide rates haven’t changed in the last 10 years in Australia, and just doing what we have always done is not really going to make any difference to those rates.

“It has been a scattergun approach and funding has been distributed in a non-organised way. Initiatives are very fragmented and some are run by the government and others by NGOs,” she explained.

Instead, Christensen proposed a new strategy that is being introduced by The National Coalition for Suicide Prevention which includes improved training for GP’s and teachers, high quality treatment facilities and assertive outreach to emergency cases.  “If we can pull together all community and health organisations to deliver evidence-based strategies at the same time, in the same location, then we have a good chance of reducing [suicide] rates in Australia by as much as 30 to 50 per cent, within four to five years,” she said.

Let’s get behind this, ladies. Don’t make today the only day that you ask your friend/lover/colleague, R U OK?