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'A conversation can save a life': How R U OK ambassador overcame PTSD after partner's death

Ming Johanson Source: Twitter/ Ming Johanson

While 2020 has been a challenging year for many, by taking the time to listen to others and validate their feelings, people experiencing mental illness can feel more empowered.

It can be a conversation that could change, or even save a life.

“You could have a conversation that could save a life. And I'm a direct result of that," says Perth-based Ming Johanson.

Ming lost her fiancé very suddenly in a motorcycle accident six years ago, which she says unpacked a whole heap of childhood trauma.

As a result, she was diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I'm an Australia-born Chinese woman and definitely there is a lot of that 'mind your own business' or that silence of keeping it to yourself and not really talking to anybody else, not bothering somebody else with your challenges or problems,” she told SBS Mandarin.

Ming’s mother is Chinese and she recalled how she dealt with the situation from a cultural perspective.

“There's an expectation that you have to do it on your own. And I think, definitely from a cultural aspect, it's very hard to break through that. Thinking feels very lonely and very isolated in that.”

Ming Johanson
Ming Johanson
Twitter/ Ming Johanson

She now knows better than anyone how powerful a call or conversation can be, even to a stranger.

In her moment of grief, she called Lifeline.

"Something in my head suggested that I should give Lifeline a call,” she said. "I called Lifeline when I was at the worst point in my life where I contemplated taking my own life.

“I still remember this very clearly. [The Lifeline person] is still the only person and the first person to ever ask me about my partner's life.

“Up until that point, everybody had asked me about how my partner had died. And so all I focused on was his death. And so this woman at the end of the phone with Lifeline asked me about his life and that was enough for me to realise that there was more food to our existence than just this final event that had happened to my partner.”

Now as the winner of the 2019 Women In Technology Tech+ Award, Ming is positioning herself as the industry leader in social media marketing in Perth and is rapidly building a following throughout Australia.

Ming Johanson
Ming Johanson
Twitter/ Ming Johanson

She is also an ambassador for R U OK? Day, and is dedicated to share her own story and equip others on how to ask the question, and also remind people that there's more to say after asking R U OK?  Especially during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

What to say after R U OK?

R U OK? inspires and empowers everyone to meaningfully connect with the people around them and start a conversation with anyone who may be struggling with life.

The message of this year's R U OK? Day 2020 is 'There's more to say after R U OK?'.

Asking R U OK? is only the first step, and when someone is not ok, the subsequent conversation about mental health can be difficult. 

“So checking in, you know, when you ask the question, listening without judgment, I think that's a really important part of that," Ming said.

"It is not feeling like you have to have all the answers and know-how to fix it all. It's really just giving a space for somebody to talk and sometimes that's all somebody needs.”

“And then encouraging action, so you know, finding a solution or working together to find a solution or maybe finding somebody that's going through a similar journey. 

“And then the fourth step in the whole R U OK conversation guide is to check-in. So after a week just checking in on them and see how they going with those actions or if they've reached out to family.”

As R U OK? Suggests, these four steps of a conversation include asking R U OK, listening, encouraging action and checking in afterwards.

And if you think it’s too confronting to ask the other person "R U OK?", Ming shares her own tips:

I'll often reach out to my friends and send them a message and say, hey, you've been on my mind. I've been thinking about you a lot lately. Or, you know, I just came across this or I noticed this.

Ming Johanson
Ming Johanson
Twitter/ Ming Johanson

In the current climate of COVID-19 Ming says everyone has permission to not be okay.

“We all have life's ups and downs. You know, we all go through either job loss or, you know, something goes on at work or we lose a loved one. “

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact Australia and its culturally diverse communities, the National Mental Health Commission has translated its top ten mental health tips on how best to deal with mental health problems.

The messaging encourages those struggling to reach out for help and also suggests changing certain habits to prevent mental health issues from arising or becoming worse.

Ming said: “You know, you have permission to not be okay. Like now more than ever you have permission to not be okay.”

Pressure of high expectations

With her Chinese heritage, Ming also understands the pressures of people under high expectations.

“Like we've all grown up with that sort of expectation on us to succeed and do very well. And sometimes that expectation can be quite overwhelming. 

Remember, she says, there's always more than one way to achieve those things. 

“So often we see the success in the end, but we talk about the journey. I think it's healthy for us to be able to talk about the journey that we go through to get to that success.”

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au and lifeline.org.au

Embrace Multicultural Mental Health supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

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