Think about your family, your workplace, or maybe the café you were in this morning, or the train carriage you’re sitting in now as you read this. How many people are there? 5? 10?
An estimated 4 million Australians aged between 16 and 85 experience mental ill health. This represents about 20 per cent of adults, or, one in five Australians. That’s one person for every five in your office, at your dining table, or one in five around you right now.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for 15 – 44 year olds in Australia.
In 2016, 2,866 Australians died from suicide. On average, this translates to around eight people every single day – that’s one person every three hours. For every one person that dies by suicide, there are an additional 30 people who attempt to end their lives.
The statistics are confronting and heartbreaking. Behind every loss is a community of relatives, friends and colleagues dealing with grief.
R U OK? Day encourages people to start a meaningful conversation with someone they are worried about. For many of us, asking someone about their mental wellbeing may seem daunting. We may feel like we’re invading their privacy, or unfairly speculating about their mental state. R U OK? Day aims to remove this fear and make conversations about mental health normal.
Asking someone you love or someone you care about if they’re okay is only the first step. We’re being encouraged to ask, listen, encourage action, and check-in. This four step process is key to meaningful conversation; listening to their concerns, encouraging them to take action if necessary, and checking-in with them shows that you support them, and it may just change their life. Evidence shows that it is not harmful to ask someone if they are thinking about taking their own life – in fact it could help.
R U OK? Day’s slogan is “A conversation could change a life”. For Central Coast resident, Jonathan Muir, this hits home hard.
“It’s very difficult to have those conversations when everyone is living such different lives,” says Jonathan.
Jonathan lost his best friend, aged 22, to suicide in 2016.
He speaks of not having a clear understanding of his mate’s mental wellbeing in the lead up to his death, “We didn’t really think there was anything wrong”. But, Jonathan’s concerns grew, so he invited his friend out for dinner to catch up and to see if he was okay. They spoke about relationships, university, and the pressure to succeed.
“He was in tears when I dropped him home” says Jonathan, “I thought they were tears of relief”.
His best friend took his own life just two weeks later.
Awareness days like R U OK? Day are empowering catalysts for change in the way we think and talk about mental illness and crisis situations. It’s clear more needs to be done to support those living with mental ill health and those at-risk.
Men are over-represented in suicide statistics in Australia, with three times more males dying by suicide than females.
So, why don’t men talk more openly about their feelings and mental wellbeing with their friends?
“It’s a guy thing” concedes Jonathan, “admitting that you have some kind of weakness is frowned upon”. These harmful stereotypes about men are entrenched in our society, and detrimental not only to males, but our entire community.
Men aren’t the only group in our community who are disproportionately affected by suicide. Suicide and mental ill health affect certain groups more than others within our community, including Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander peoples, LGBTQIA+, and those living outside of urban centres.
As Labor’s Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health, I have met with many people across the country to discuss suicide and mental health. I’ve been fortunate enough to regularly visit with the team at our local headspace office in Gosford. headspace offers services to improve the mental and physical health of young people. The Gosford and Lake Haven headpsace branches run a fantastic Meet up and Move program that aims to connect young people with mental health issues through exercise.
Services like this provide a great space for young people to flourish and feel like they belong. More needs to be done to support Australia’s young people so that when they seek assistance the help is there.
During the 2016 election, Labor’s mental health policy had a strong focus on suicide prevention. This included adopting the National Mental Health Commission’s recommendation to reduce suicide by 50 per cent over 10 years. Labor remains committed to this.
Labor knows there is more to do to ensure Australians living with mental ill health have access to the services they need – no matter where they live, whether on the Coast or in the city. A Shorten Labor Government will continue to support mental health services, and continue to focus on long-term mental health reform as a national priority.
It is only through working together that we will be able to finally reduce the impact of mental ill-health and suicide in our society.
A lot of great work has already been done, but we can, and must, do better.
It’s up to all of us to get involved if we are to make a difference.
So today, if you’re OK yourself make sure you have a meaningful conversation that starts with four simple steps:
- Ask the question – R U OK?
- Encourage action.
- Check in.
And, if you’re not OK, tell someone today – a friend your doctor, a workmate, or someone waiting to hear from you right now on one of the numbers below.
We can do this. Together, with a bit of love and care in the mix, we can all be OK.
** For 24/7 crisis support and suicide prevention services call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Other services include Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467, Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636, Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800, MensLine Australia: 1300 789 978 **