RU OK? Day is a good opportunity to reach out and start meaningful conversations in the Hunter

Teacher Hayley Weber and Dr McGill with students Emarehi Okhawere, Hamish Gleeson, Sabrina Amiri and Corey Stevenson. Picture: Marina Neil

Teacher Hayley Weber and Dr McGill with students Emarehi Okhawere, Hamish Gleeson, Sabrina Amiri and Corey Stevenson. Picture: Marina Neil

SUICIDE prevention can start with a conversation, and now students at Jesmond Public School have a special place to sit and ask each other, “RU OK?”

A “conversation bench” was installed at the school ahead of RU OK? Day on September 14, an initiative which aims to protect people from suicide by offering a way for them to connect with each other.

“Finding out what is happening, what is going to help them in this moment to start to get back on track… it all starts with a conversation.” - Dr Katie McGill

“We’re a very multicultural school, with upwards of 27 nationalities out of 200 children,” relieving principal Brad Bannister said. “Within those cultures, a large percentage are from refugee backgrounds, and many of them have a lot of stories to tell. I think the bench will give them their own space and time to choose when they have those conversations.”

LifeSpan Newcastle, which is rolling out an integrated suicide prevention strategy, has supported local workplaces and organisations by offering community grants to host RU OK? Day activities throughout the city on Thursday.

Dr Katie McGill, Lifespan Newcastle coordinator, said the conversation benches were about creating a space where people could check in with each other.

“When we’re having a hard time, often we don’t reach out to others or tell them about things that are going on for us,” Dr McGill said.

“Sometimes that’s because we find it embarrassing, or there is a bit of shame around it, or we have a sense that if we tell people we’re having a hard time of it, others might think we’re weak.”

People who were worried about a loved one’s mental health were often afraid to bring it up.

“That can be because we think it’s none of our business, that we don’t want to embarrass them, or put them on the spot, or that we just don’t know what to say if they do say they are not OK,” she said.

While Dr McGill encouraged people to check in on friends and family more frequently, RU OK? Day served as a call to action.

“By asking, we’re saying that it’s OK for them to tell us, and it provides that opportunity to have the conversation,” she said.

People should not be afraid to ask someone if they were considering suicide.

“Asking doesn’t put the idea in someone’s head,” she said. “It just starts the discussion. Finding out what is happening, and what is going to help them in this moment to start to get back on track… it all starts with a conversation.”

Paramedics have urged people to check in on seniors. “People’s willingness to talk about mental health is improving, but we have a long way to go,” NSW Ambulance Senior Chaplain Reverend Paul McFarlane said. 

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