Yesterday was the second annual RUOK? Day, an nationwide Australian initiative aimed at preventing suicide. On RUOK? Day, Australians were urged to check in with the people they care about – friends, relatives, colleagues, partners – to ask how they were doing.
As my future husband and RUOK Day spokesperson Hugh Jackman says, “Just take a moment to think about your work colleagues, maybe a friend, maybe a family member, who’s just struggling a little bit and may need some help. Or maybe you’re not sure. Well, don’t just sit there thinking, ‘eh, I think they’re probably OK.’ Take a moment, pull them aside, grab a coffee, tea, whatever it is, and just say ‘Hey. You OK? Everything good?’”
It’s a fantastic initiative (and no, I’m not just saying that because I’d let Hugh Jackman sell me almost anything). Australia has an upsettingly high suicide rate, with about 65 000 attempted suicides every year. In the US, about 35 000 people commit suicide every year. In both countries, it’s particular a problem in rural areas, where isolation and loneliness contribute to mental illness, and mean that it can go unnoticed and untreated.
Combating that isolation and silence is precisely the point of RUOK? Day. The site says that “Staying connected with others is crucial to our general health and wellbeing…. Regular, meaningful conversations can protect those we know and love. It’s so simple. In the time it takes to have a coffee, you can start a conversation that could change a life.”
The framing of the day, I think, is particularly important. The goal is to prevent suicide and nip mental illness in the bud, but it’s not framed explicitly as being about suicide and mental illness. It’s about “regular” conversations. It’s about “how are you going?” instead of “I’m worried you might have Depression.” Given the persistent stigma around mental illness, it’s far easier to engage people in the former conversation than in the latter (we should, of course, be working to break that stigma down, but in my opinion it’s more important that we take care of the people we love, and if couching it in non-mental illness terms is what it takes, so be it).
And it’s important to remember than any day can be RUOK? Day. If you feel like someone close to you might be struggling, you should wait for the right moment to ask them how they’re doing – but you shouldn’t wait until next September 15th.
For tips on how to ask someone if they’re OK, check out the RUOK? Day website.