Over the past couple of years, the presentation of R U OK? day has caused me some concern. I completely support the idea, and concept of the day. My concerns lay with those whom deliver it, and their true grasp, and understanding of the issue(s) which they are representing. The article below struck a chord with me. I hope, in some way, i can help steer (well meaning) people towards a better grasp of depression, anxiety, mental illness, and a real understanding of R U OK?.
All good wishes to Lance “Buddy” Franklin.
Why people suffering from mental health issues struggle with R U OK? Day
SEPTEMBER 9, 2015
Once a year is not a good year.
Article originally published on news.com.au, and can be viewed HERE.
R U OK? Day is a great concept, but why don’t we ask that question of those we know and care about on one of the other 364 days of the year?
We were shocked to find out on Tuesday that Lance “Buddy” Franklin would miss the Sydney Swans’ qualifying final on Saturday due to mental health issues. Franklin kept his “serious but treatable” condition so private that even those closest to him were unaware of the demons he was battling.
Depression is a silent, devastating menace that all too many people endure alone. And often the first time those close to them learn about it, it can be too late.
Buddy is now getting the love and support he needs from his family, friends, colleagues and club. Everyone should feel they have this, no matter what day of the year it is.
My friend Geoff* is dreading R U OK? Day. He dreads it because of the awful insincerity in the way his workplace celebrates it.
The day has been hijacked by a mindless staff social committee and slotted into the office events calendar alongside inane events such as ‘Crazy Hair Wednesday’ or ‘Wear Your Footy Team’s Colours To Work’ day.
In fact, Geoff is dreading it so much he is seriously considering chucking a sickie on September 10 just to avoid it altogether. You see Geoff has had depression for years and actually attempted suicide four years ago, something only his closest family and friends know.
R U OK? Day has been poorly rolled out in Geoff’s workplace by the office social butterflies seeking yet another way to break up the monotony of corporate life, with all the same grace and decorum as they would run the annual office Melbourne Cub sweep.
The subject of mental health and suicidal thoughts is not given the seriousness it deserves and for Geoff it makes him feel worse.
Photo above: Lance “Buddy” Franklin with his fiancee Jesinta Campbell. Picture: Alex CoppelSource:News Corp Australia
The founders of R U OK? Day never intended this, of course. The day is meant to highlight the need for an ongoing dialogue about suicide and to encourage people to talk to others to see if they are struggling with life all year round, not just on one day.
Geoff says his office will hold a morning tea with orange balloons, sandwiches, cakes and the much-coveted social function sausage rolls. Management and staff will mingle, make small talk and laugh as they ask ‘R U OK?’ like they do every year. And Geoff will answer “yes” because why on earth would he open up about his psychological pain in this sort of setting?
“It’s an excuse to slack off and eat free food. It feels like it trivialises everything I go through.
“It’s just lip-service from management by even holding the function,” he says.
“Why don’t they ask on one of the other 364 days of the year? It seems like a hollow, token gesture and I suspect it’s because they don’t really care.”
It’s ironic that a day encouraging people to talk about suicide makes Geoff reluctant to talk about his own attempt. I’m a huge supporter of talking about it. By the time I was 30 almost every funeral I had attended was for a young man who had taken his own life.
According to ABS data, suicide is the leading cause of deaths for Australians aged 15 to 44, with men accounting for three out of every five suicides.
I’ve seen first-hand how people close to me have dealt with the torturous aftermath of suicide, tormenting themselves for years, wondering if they could have said or done something to prevent it. And in some cases I’m haunted too, thinking the answer may have been yes, if only we’d asked. If only.
I’ve long resented the taboo nature of talking about suicide, sweeping it under the carpet, pretending it isn’t such a pervasive, insidious scourge on our society that destroys the people left behind. Some of the people I love most in the world are forever damaged by it and it churns me up, wondering if their pain could have been prevented.
Approaching the topic needs sensitivity and sincerity. Having a laugh at an office morning tea is the opposite of how it should be broached, and organisations should be extremely careful running such events: they might be hurting the very people who need help, like Geoff.
Sydney clinical psychologist, Jason Fowler, says people with depression or suicidal thoughts often feel others can’t handle the intensity of their problems, but it can be a relief to them when they are asked about it.
“My sense is that it’s not the question, but the lack of sincere or genuine follow up that can be the issue. In my experience, opening up a dialogue is generally not a bad thing,” he says.
And that seems to be the crux of it.
If you’re going to ask someone “R U OK?” are you prepared for what you might say if they do open up and tell you they aren’t?
Are you prepared to give them ongoing support?
Are you prepared to keep asking throughout the year, not on a mandated day to ask?
We should be asking the right questions all year long. Don’t treat it like Casual Clothes Friday — because this is about life and death. It shouldn’t be forgotten about next time there’s an excuse for the sausage rolls to come out.
* Name has been changed.
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis or suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp
Caroline Duncan is a director at a boutique public relations, marketing, social media and copywriting consultancy. Follow her on Twitter @whatsthestoryAU