In a life where everything happens at such a rapid pace, it can be difficult to slow down and ask friends and family how they really are. It can be easy to blow off a response with a “She’ll be right mate” or think the person’s feelings are just part of a phase they might be going through and disregard their true meaning.

But on September 10th, I challenge you to ask the question, “R U Okay” and listen. Really listen to the answer.

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It is estimated that within a 12-month period, an estimated 65,000 Australians make a suicidal attempt on their life, with an average of 2,300 resulting in the end of their life. Over 40% of
Australians suffer from various forms of mental illness in their life including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar. Nobody is immune, with AFL star Lance “Buddy” Franklin set to miss a portion the 2015 Finals series with mental health issues.

Mental illness is a condition that has affected my personal life in many ways. I have several family members who struggle with various forms of mental illness. While this is a personal struggle, the impact on loved ones around the individual can be immense as they feel a deep sense of helplessness. I have also lost a close friend to suicide. He was able to hide his feelings behind a happy smile and bubbly personality, which fooled everybody. Nobody would ever have thought to ask him “ R U Okay” because on the outside, he was.

I grew up in a rural town in South Australia, about 45 minutes from Adelaide. In the period between 2010 and 2011, a number of local people took their lives, with just one of the towns GP Practices citing a tally of 9 suicides and 11 additional attempts. This rate is four times the national average. Many questioned the support given to individuals in rural areas however the power of mateship and the ability to truly listen is underestimated.

So today, or perhaps everyday when you see a friend or family member, even if they look happy, make sure you ask them “R U Okay?” Encourage them to be honest. Listen without judgement. Encourage action. You don’t have to be an expert to start a conversation.

You might even save a life.

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For help or support regarding feelings of depression, anxiety or suicide, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au.