“Are you ok?” is a simple question to ask, but for many people the answer is not so simple.
RU OK? Day on Thursday September 8 is a reminder to look around and consider how we could make a difference to someone who might be struggling simply by asking if they are ok, and being ready to help if they aren’t.
Nearly half of the population will experience a mental illness or mental health condition at some point in their lives and almost 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental illness in a 12 month period. Yet, despite the high prevalence of mental illness in society, there is a stigma around mental health and many people suffer in silence.
This is something Department of Human Services staff member Adrian, knows all too well.
“In February 2009, I was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with major depression and anxiety,” Adrian said.
“Before then, I know I had experienced many episodes of mental illness throughout my life, but the stigma surrounding mental illness definitely stopped me from seeking help earlier.
“Being a male, I found it extremely difficult to open up about what I was experiencing and it wasn’t until my condition had deteriorated quite severely that people around me started to express concern.
“I think if someone had of asked me if I was ok earlier on, it might have helped me open up before I reached that point.”
It wasn’t until Adrian was hospitalised that he realised he wasn’t alone and mental health was something we should feel more comfortable talking about.
“I was in hospital for six weeks and, during that time, I met so many patients in the same situation I was,” he said. “I realised just what a hidden issue it is in society and it’s something we should be more open about.”
For Adrian, managing mental health is an ongoing battle, but he’s determined not to let it slow him down.
“I’ve been hospitalised four times for my condition and mental illness is just something I’ll always have to live with,” he said.
“I don’t see it as something that defines who I am as a person. It’s something I manage, just as someone might manage an ailment such as diabetes or any other health condition.
“I’m trying to turn my experiences into a positive and I don’t have any insecurities about it. In fact, my experience has helped me feel empowered to help others.”
For Adrian, RU OK? Day is incredibly important.
“It’s not just about asking a question,” he said. “It’s about building a culture where it’s okay to let people around you know that you need help and making mental health a part of the conversation.”
“When you ask someone if they are ok, try to listen without judgement. If they are struggling, ask them how you can help.
“You can never underestimate the power of just being there to listen. I’ve been very open with my manager and colleagues, and when I have a relapse, which does happen, the support I’ve received makes my transition back to work much easier.”
If you are going through a difficult time, or experiencing mental illness, Adrian emphasizes the importance of letting someone know.
“And if you think someone you know might be struggling, ask them if they are ok and be ready to listen.”