ONE day a year, we are encourage to ask someone "R U OK?"
This is a national mental health awareness campaign that started 10 years ago.
While it is creating awareness around the fact that we do need to check in with each other, listen to each other and help each other when we can, it really is only a baby step in breaking down the stigma and treatment of people battling mental health issues.
Here are some points from the point of view of someone who has not only battled depression for 20 years, but grew up in a family that buried their heads in the sand when such matters arose, or think that just because a person is not outwardly showing they are sad/depressed that they are not impacted by depression.
Asking me if I am ok on a national day that encourages people to ask others if they are ok just comes across to me as being fake.
I perceive your question as just being a part of a 'cool thing to do', particularly if you are not willing to actually listen to a truthful answer.
Therefore, I will just say 'yes'. I will then ask you are you ok because I think this is what is supposed to happen next.
However, if you are a friend who regularly asks if I am ok and have shown to have genuine interest in my answer - applause! I will answer you truthfully, which is what the day is encouraging people with mental health issues to do ( it is not just about getting people to ask, it is also about getting the battling people to feel comfortable about answering such a question honestly).
Give me a puppy or a dog to play with and hug and let the happy endorphins be released. I'd prefer that than to answer honestly answer 'RUOK?' Maybe the next step is Give Someone A Hug Day?
But there is another layer of all this - people with depression who have grown up in families that don't believe depression is a genuine medical illness are more than likely going to do as I do - shrug off the question with a 'yes'.
Because our families have raised us to believe that any type of complaint is just whinging and that we need to 'suck it up and get on with our lives'.
They are the types of families that if they did as R U OK (which happens maybe once every few years), they can't handle the truthful answer. They respond by telling you how wrong you are, that you don't know anything, and to stop talking about 'rot'.
So it is hard for these people to see RUOK Day as a positive because they still see it as a fake attempt at making them feel wanted/loved/understood.
However, by having a national day to remind us how we should ask someone if they ok, how we should react, respond and help, maybe the next generation of people battling depression will turn around and answer the question truthfully when they are having problems coping.
Every day, I see another example of mental health issues being brushed under the carpet because people do not know how to cope with someone with such problems, or they don't want to know about it, or think that the person is just being 'weak'.
The worst I saw on social media this week was a woman in Western Australia whose husband took his own life the day before he was due to fly back to work (FIFO).
The dealings and response she outlined she had from the company that hired her late husband was not only sad, it was disgusting.
She allegedly tried to contact the company, leaving many messages, many times, before someone from HR returned her call - eight days after her husband's death.
Surely management noticed he wasn't at work sooner than that?
The company allegedly then refused to release her husband's final pay packet to her and told her lies about bank accounts being frozen, etc.
This woman has just lost her husband, who she discovered deceased, and this is the treatment she gets from a national company?
We obviously still have a long way to go in the battle of breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health and educating people the best ways to help or react to someone with a problem associated with mental health.
RUOK is a baby step. Let's hope we are running around with enthusiasm like a toddler in a few more years' time.
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