Opinion | RUOK? A potential life-changer

OK, LET'S GO: 'Your conversation could be the one thing that makes a real difference,' says Hunter Institute of Mental Health director Jaelea Skehan.

OK, LET'S GO: 'Your conversation could be the one thing that makes a real difference,' says Hunter Institute of Mental Health director Jaelea Skehan.

Today is R U OK? Day, a national day of action dedicated to reminding us to check in regularly with people around us.

Last week, I was proud to join the Conversation Convoy for a few days through rural NSW and into QLD, talking to people and learning about what connects them to the RUOK message.

To make a difference to big issues that affect our community, such as suicide, we need to change our systems of care, but we also need to create communities that reach out and support each other. 

I believe in the power of the individual to make a difference and have seen first-hand, in my personal and professional life, that a conversation can indeed change a life. 

It sounds simple enough right? Just notice someone is doing it tough and ask if they are OK. But how often have we put off a phone call or cancelled a coffee date because of our busy lives?

How often has our gut feeling told us that something is not quite right with someone we care about, but we avoided the conversation for fear of getting it wrong, or not knowing how to respond if the answer is, “No, I’m actually not OK”?

You don’t need to be an expert to support someone going through a tough time, but the first important step is to have the courage to reach out and ask R U OK?

Here are the four steps to asking:

Step one: Start the conversation – ask R U OK? Use words you are comfortable with.

Step two: Listen without judgement and don’t try to fix the problem. Just be there.

Step three: Encourage action, whether that’s telling someone else, making an appointment with their doctor or getting information from a service online.

Step four: Check-in. Follow-up with them again tomorrow or put a note in your diary to call them in a week.

RUOK is a national movement that requires local action.

This year, we are encouraging everyone in Newcastle, and surrounding areas, to get involved and connect with the RUOK message.  As the first national trial site for LifeSpan, an all-of-community and all-of-system response to suicide prevention, the time is right to get involved. 

Join one of the many events happening in the region, engage with the campaign online and find out more information about asking R U OK? at ruok.org.au

As part of LifeSpan Newcastle, we recently offered 10 small grants for community members to hold R U OK? Day events. We were inundated with applications from emergency services, schools, health services, the university, businesses, councils, sporting clubs and community organisations wanting to get involved and spread the message. 

So, if there is someone you’ve been thinking about and wondering how they are going - ring them, email them, see if they want to catch up.

There is no better day than today to reconnect.

Remember that if you are feeling nervous or worried about reaching out and asking R U OK?, think about how difficult it must be for the other person to ask for help. Your conversation could be the one thing that makes a real difference.

If you are in Newcastle and want to get involved in suicide prevention or register your interest in free training to help you ask the question, visit himh.org.au/SPtraining

If you need help or support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 lifeline.org.au

Jaelea Skehan is the director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health

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