• "As someone who has struggled with mental health their whole life, I always feel a mixed array of emotions when these awareness days roll around..." (iStockphoto/Getty Images)
It's great that we have days like R U OK? Day, World Suicide Prevention Day and World Mental Health Day, all within a few weeks of each other, but what about the other 362 days of the year?
By
Carolyn Cage

13 Sep 2017 - 3:14 PM  UPDATED 13 Sep 2017 - 5:04 PM

We often share posts and write statuses through social media channels about the importance of engaging in these conversations, but how many of us are actively doing it in our everyday lives? If we are all participating then why is suicide on a constant incline, and why does stigma still surround mental health?

Suicide is the leading cause of death among Australians aged between 15-44 years-old and mental illness affects one in every five Australians each year. If you don’t personally suffer from mental health, there is a good chance someone in your life does.

As someone who has struggled with mental health their whole life, I always feel a mixed array of emotions when these awareness days roll around, and sometimes they can feel like a blessing, but also a curse.

Most people who suffer from mental illness aren’t going to reply with a list of what they are struggling with.

Although these national awareness days are meant with good intention, seeing “R U OK?” written in the sky or having someone who has never paid any attention to your mental well-being ask “are you okay?” in a conversation around the water cooler can sometimes be daunting.

“Are you okay?” is a simple question that often has a complicated answer, especially if you are suffering from mental health. It is a great conversation starter but when asked in a public forum, is it for a pat on the back for self-gratification or do people genuinely want to know the demons another person faces? Most people who suffer from mental illness aren’t going to reply with a list of what they are struggling with. 

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Without withdrawing from the importance around having days where the awareness around mental health is amped up, perhaps we could not only be having more, but better conversations around mental health, and more importantly in real, everyday life.

Asking “how are you?” is no longer subsequent to an honest reply. We have overused the phrase that it has diminished to a greeting, but it doesn’t take much effort to follow up and ask more meaningful questions.

Ask someone how they are feeling, be an active listener, or offer support without reminders from media campaigns to do so. If we keep the conversations rolling every other day of the year, perhaps it can normalise something that most Australian’s face at some point in their lives, and perhaps more people will feel comfortable to open up.

Perhaps we can engage in more open and honest conversations if it is at the forefront of our minds. It is no one’s responsibility to be someone’s therapist, but if suicide is one of the leading causes of death in our society, then maybe it is our responsibility to invest a bit of time in making sure that someone is ok, and offering support if they are not.  

We shouldn’t need a national awareness day to remind us to ask someone how they are. It should be a part of everyday conversation.

We invest so much time in small talk, conversing about the weather or what football teams are going to win on the weekend, that the more important conversations are pushed to the side. We shouldn’t need a national awareness day to remind us to ask someone how they are. It should be a part of everyday conversation.

If we take time to ask the right questions and listen without interruption or judgement, perhaps it might contribute to a more compassionate society where there is a better understanding around mental illness, and these national awareness days won’t have to be so significant whichever way they are viewed.

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Our society in many ways has taught us to suppress emotions as a coping mechanism, and that by showing vulnerability we are weak, when in actual fact true strength lies within being able to confront and talk about how you feel. It is okay if you are not okay. Life is a rollercoaster, but it is better to talk through the ups and downs rather than riding through it with no support structure.

By engaging in real conversations along the way instead of waiting for the next mental health awareness day to roll around, perhaps we can assist in the prevention of someone hitting crisis point and we can lower the statistics around suicide and mental illness, but we need to normalise these conversations first.

I admire the concept of raising awareness around a topic that is vital to so many, and days like R U OK? Day, World Suicide Prevention Day and World Mental Health Day are great opportunities to talk about how we feel or ask someone how they are, but it is important to know that every other day of the year is just as important.

If you are in need of support, call Lifeline on 131 114, Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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