• Mental Health advocate, Jake Gablonski (Facebook / R U OK? Day)
Mental health advocate, Jake Gablonski talks about how important initiating a conversation with a loved one - or a total stranger - is.
By
Jake Gablonski

13 Sep 2017 - 5:30 PM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2017 - 9:04 AM

Today is R U OK? Day, one day of the year we all come together to ask each other the big question, creating a supportive community and raise awareness nation-wide.

But I think opening up, talking and showing support goes beyond one day of the year. While R U OK? Day is about raising awareness about suicide, in essence, the campaign is about mateship, standing shoulder-to-shoulder regardless of gender, race, skin colour, sexuality, religion, geographical location or 'who' or 'what' we are as human beings. It's about sharing a view to provide an opportunity to talk about our feelings, and to listen. Something we can all take part in 365 days of the year.

I became an Ambassador for R U OK? because it’s something I’m very passionate about and it’s message is so relevant to my goals in the influencer space. I guess I never really knew how much difference talking about things makes until I went through periods of struggling myself with anxiety and depression. As a child, I was involved in an accident, and in my teenage years I had difficulty feeling as though my identity didn't align with the image of who I was meant to be in my head.

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I have seen many people close to me struggle with their mental health as well, and I’ve experienced far too many loved ones get to a point where they feel like they have limited options to get through it. I find it particularly worrying that a lot of these people in my community are young because they are our future leaders. If we can’t set an example and teach them how to speak up about emotions, learn how to work through it right at the start and in turn, support each other while they are struggling; we will continue to see the devastating numbers of suicides in our country grow and lose next generation leaders. 

It’s not easy and can be uncomfortable hearing and talking about difficult things, but the more we do it, the easier it gets.

I wanted to play a part in influencing a change by taking a leap of faith on such a public platform, telling my story with hope to provide an opportunity for people struggling to understand that they have a chance to express their feelings safely, and to ensure those around them feel comfortable enough to know how to help. It’s not easy and can be uncomfortable hearing and talking about difficult things, but the more we do it, the easier it gets. I’m a strong believer in the power of storytelling and that growth happens outside our comfort zone, and sometimes we don’t even realise it’s happening.

Asking the question, 'are you okay?', and having conversations can change a life. It’s happened to me not only by telling my own story, but throughout my travels and my interactions in communities Australia-wide. 

Last week, something significant happened that really validated the work of R U OK? and everyone involved. I finished up a total of around two weeks travelling with R U OK?’s Conversation Convoy last weekend, which ended in Brisbane. Rewind to about four months ago, a teenage boy contacted me on Facebook and opened up about some personal struggles he was having, and I told him about the difference simply talking about things made to me when I was having a tough time. Fast forward to last Friday at the Queen Street Mall event, an Aboriginal woman and her son came over and had a chat - I had no idea at the time, but it was the same boy who’d contacted me, standing in front of me, while we had a casual yarn about school, life and everything in between. Three days later, I received a message from his mum thanking me for encouraging her son to open up to her about his struggles and came out as a gay. He'd told her that if he and I didn’t have that conversation, he - a 15 year old boy - would have taken his own life.

Reading that message was one of the heaviest moments for me, but there was also no greater gift I could have received than knowing I played a part in inspiring him to break down that wall. His touching story demonstrates the power of R U OK?’s philosophy and how effective a simple conversation can be. By removing the stigma from mental health and making yourself available for this kind of conversation, you too could be a champion of change, and even impact even a stranger’s ability to see their way to tomorrow.

RUOK? Day’s significance is based on its ability to connect with everyone. So, who will you ask today?

This year, NITV & R U OK? are working together encourage more life-changing conversations in communities across Australia.

R U OK? Day is a national day of action on Thursday, 14 September. Conversation tips and crisis numbers can be found at R U OK Website or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.