R U OK?
In light of the recent national ‘R U OK Day’ Campaign on Thursday September 14th, an article was released by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners stating that “Australians are now presenting to their GP with mental health issues more than any other kind of health concern”. Given that GP’s are often the first port-of-call for any and all medical concerns, this really highlights the prevalence and importance of mental health in our community. In addition, patients almost always present with ‘co-morbid’ conditions meaning that they have accompanying health issues along with mental health concerns.
Why is it so hard to talk about?
Concerns regarding our thinking and feeling can be hard to talk about for many reasons. For many generations, our Australian culture has had unspoken norms that make us feel that we should be tough, stoic and have a “she’ll be right, mate!” attitude. Mental health symptoms can also hinder a person’s insight into their own well-being. Due to the nature of the symptoms (such as social withdrawal, lack of motivation, lack of energy, difficulty with concentration), the opportunities for meaningful social interaction is reduced and it can be hard for a person to open up to others of their own volition. A depressed person can often feel like they are trapped and isolated in their situation and have often lost hope that others will understand them, let alone be able to help.
What can we do to change the culture?
To continue to shift and change our tough Aussie culture, we must be careful not to assume that our family and friends are OK because they look that way or that they will tell us when they are not OK. Part of depression is the withdrawal and amount of energy it takes to open up to others, so we need to provide a safe opportunity for others to talk to us and be a compassionate listening ear. We can take the time to read about how we can have some simple skills around enquiring and listening to someone who is in distress from one of the many online resources such as ‘R U OK’, Blackdog Institute or Beyond Blue. We need to continue to work on having a culture of openness and acceptance in our school towards talking about how we feel, and not put someone down or make them feel weak for this. It actually takes a lot of strength and courage to do this!
Why is R U OK DAY important?
‘R U OK’ is a suicide prevention charity organisation established to encourage Australians to ask a mate this simple, life-changing question. The ‘R U Ok’ Day yearly campaign is an important reminder to love and support those who are battling with symptoms such as suicidal thinking that may be part of a mental health condition. It is an important question to ask, but even more important is our response to the answer we hear. If you ask this question (and please do!) make sure you are comfortable with how to respond when a person answers “no”. After all, isn’t the point to give support to those who need to say “no”? Speak with kindness, grace and boldness, but it is important to be prepared. There are some simple steps on the website www.ruok.org.au on how to ask, listen, encourage action, and check-in. You know your family and friends well, and it often takes someone close-by who is looking on to notice changes in behaviour or mood. It might just be a ‘gut-feeling’ for you that your loved one has not been their usual self, so take that opportunity to ask the question. Be bold in commenting on the changes you have noticed and even if they do not feel like opening up about it, they will know you care because you have voiced your concerns. Listen openly and calmly (try to manage your own distress at what you are hearing!) as the way we respond to them can determine whether they go on to seek further help. Don’t feel that you have to solve the problem for them, there are health professionals who can do that if they need to take that step.
What can we do if we feel like we’re struggling with stress or mental health issues?
There is much help available for those who feel they may be struggling with stress or mental health issues
Suicidal ideation is a symptom of mental health pathology and does occur commonly in response to significant life stressors. It is a sign that there is some form of underlying mental health issue for a person. From research that has been done on faith communities, it has been found that being meaningfully connected to a community such as a church or school provides a support network for a person which can be a protective factor, can contribute to their recovery from mental health issues and provide a sense of hope. The presence of a support network is a very important and healthy factor in a person’s mental well-being. We are fortunate to have a natural support network in our school community where we can actively and practically provide support to those around us and help to reduce the impact of stressful life experiences, so we encourage you to talk to a trusted friend, doctor, teacher, chaplain, mentor or responsible adult and let them know that you are not OK.
If you or someone you know needs help with their thoughts and feelings, you can call Lifeline (13 11 14) or Kids’ Helpline (1800 55 1800). Your local doctor can also refer you to a mental health professional through Medicare.
Counselling is available 2 days per week for students and their families at Mountain View Adventist College, please contact the college reception if you wish to make an appointment.
Claire Marsh, Mountain View Adventist College Psychologist