R U OK? The question that could change a life

Lady smiling at camera in front of tree

Today is R U OK? Day – a national day of action to remind us of how important it is to ask those around us how they are doing.

Rhonda, who works for the Department of Human Services as a Community Engagement Officer (CEO) says the initiative is a great reminder to take a few moments to reach out to someone.

“Sometimes it can be the simple questions that can have the biggest impact on someone. You never know what effect your words may have,” Rhonda said.

“Mental health impacts everyone, and mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Nearly every day, I work with customers who have a mental illness or disorder – from patients in hospitals to people on the street.

“I met Sam*at a community kitchen I provide a visiting service to. He was driving past and stopped in to see what it was. I introduced myself to him and asked him if he wanted to grab a coffee with me to have a chat.

“He told me about how his marriage had broken down and how he was now a single father to his 19-year-old son. After a few years, he started gambling because he felt lonely.

“This led to his first episode of depression. He struggled to attend work and before long, he lost his job. Without an income, he wasn’t able to pay his rent or support his son. He was forced to live in his car until he found another job, and decided it was best for his son to live with his mother.

“His depression worsened and he didn’t know what to do. It was at this point I met him.

“I helped him to claim a Centrelink payment, which he’d never done before. I linked him with housing services and some agencies that helped with food, mental health and gambling issues.

“It’s now been 6 months and he regularly comes into the community kitchen to update me on his progress. He’s secured medium-term accommodation, attends counselling for his depression and gambling issues, has rebuilt his relationship with his son and is ready to go back to work.

“He often tells me he can’t believe the support he’s received from these services. This is what I find most rewarding about my role – knowing that little bit of assistance I can provide can have a big impact on someone’s life. A simple question can be all it takes.”

As a CEO, Rhonda often comes into contact with people who have trouble accessing our services and those of other providers.

“These customers – such as vulnerable people experiencing mental illness, homelessness and substance addiction – have complex needs and need additional support.

“Sometimes they’re not even aware of what services are available – navigating through the system can be overwhelming.

“One of the challenges I face in my role is sometimes not being able to help everyone with all their needs. To help me come to terms with this, I take some time out and think about what I was able to do for them, not what I couldn’t do.”

“The mental health training I’ve done and reflective practice meetings I participate in with my CEO colleagues also help me deal with this. I work closely with social workers too and they provide good support, often asking me how I am.”

Everyone can take part in R U OK? Day. If you notice something may not be quite right with a colleague, friend or family member, today’s the perfect time to ask them how they’re doing and let them know you care.

More information

To find out more about R U OK? Day, including how to start a conversation, visit their website here: ruok.org.au

*Name has been changed to protect the customer’s privacy.