Asking 'R U OK?' isn't doing nearly enough

It's become an annual event. Every year we part with our hard earned dollars donating to campaigns like "R U OK?" Day and Mental Health Month to erase the stigma on mental illness. I get it.

It's important to talk about it, but does "just talking about it" do anything? Does it change anything? Does it actually help people?

These campaigns tell us about the importance of listening to people's problems and they're right: sometimes that's all it takes. So what if someone turns to you and says they're not OK and they need more than a pair of ears? What if they need medical help and there's nothing available?

I've been there. There was a time in my life where I didn't know what was wrong. I was in my first year of university and unemployed. I hated my life, I felt it had no purpose and I didn't know how to be happy.

Mental illness doesn't switch on at the start of a campaign. Nor is it cured by a hashtag or a slogan.

Mental illness doesn't switch on at the start of a campaign. Nor is it cured by a hashtag or a slogan.

I remember talking to my best friend one night. She knew something was wrong and asked if I was OK. How could I tell her I wasn't? At that point I completely fell apart. I felt lost and didn't know who to turn to for help. I know I'm not the only one.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in five Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year. At any time of the year. Let's put that into perspective. If you're at work, at school or on the dreaded train ride home, there will be someone near you who's fighting a battle you don't know about.

Don't get me wrong. We should always encourage open discussion about mental health, but we should also be putting more effort into providing more services to keep up with the demand from people who are "not OK''.

Australia's mental health network is complex and can be difficult for someone to find a service that suits their needs. People often turn to their local GP, who refer them to a psych, who is often booked for three months in advance, because there are simply not enough mental health professionals available.

The way we are sharing our "support" is to make ourselves look good. I've seen it for myself. My social media has been inundated with countless "brave" selfies with #ruok and long posts from friends, family and B-grade celebrities declaring their compassion and support for Mental Health Month.

Where are all these people in between campaigns when millions of others are suffering their own silent battles?

When thousands of people commit suicide because there was none of that amazing "support" they're promoting online? Like a hashtag after a terrorist attack or a hurricane. Until tomorrow, when the next hashtag trends.

There are people out there making a difference. Health workers, police, paramedics, teachers, friends and family see the effect of mental illness on a daily basis.

If you want to make a difference, donate to organisations that are actually at the coal face helping people with mental illness, volunteer to raise money, or assist existing services that are tirelessly trying to work with the thousands of people begging for help.

Mental illness doesn't switch on at the start of a campaign. Nor is it cured by a hashtag or a slogan. Every day should be "R U OK?" day.

  • Claudia Bonnici is a Melbourne writer.
Gippsland Senior
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