In the heart of the Northern Territory’s arid "red centre", four cars with four important messages began the R U OK? Ambassadors' journey to raise mental health awareness.
The Conversation Convey seeks to assist family and friends start difficult conversations with people around them who might be struggling emotionally.
Over the course of six weeks, R U OK?'s Conversation Convoy has engaged a number of Indigenous ambassadors and role models including Steven Oliver, Riverbank Frank Doolan and Jake Gablonski, to help further spread the message - particularly to Indigenous communities - that asking “are you okay?” could help a struggling loved one, maybe event save a life.
Starting in August this year, the Conversation Convoy visited 30 towns and communities and held events across the nation. From remote destinations like the central desert to Katherine, Broome, Kalgoorlie, to the city centre of Victoria, Brisbane and Sydney, and regional towns like Bourke and Tamworth, reaching their final destination in the tropical top of Cairns.
"This campaign reached out to some of the most remote places in Australia, places who don’t get to see the campaign through TV and social media."
But for 22-year-old Wiradjuri man Jake Gablonski, travelling to remote communities like his hometown in Katherine NT was crucial to breaking down barriers surrounding mental health issues and generating the simple conversation of asking: are you ok?
"I feel like it [Katherine] was one of the communities that really needed the visibility from R U OK? and to open up an environment to have difficult conversations and safely support each other."
Despite the positive initiative of the event, Jake found accepting the raw reality of depression being so common amongst everyday people difficult to come to terms with.
"The most challenging part for me was the realisation that this is such a real topic, each and every person is struggling in their own way, and everyone needs someone to have a yarn with," he said.
"I had so many different types of conversations with so many different people. If I could have given every person in the communities we went to a big hug I absolutely would have."
Reliving his dark past Jake remembers that even in the darkest situation, light can be found.
"I just want people to know that you might not be feeling the best now, but if you talk about it with someone you trust, you will be OK."
Jake says another element that drove the important conversation forward was the bright and bold messages conveyed by each individual car.
"It’s extremely important to have visibility - the message the convoy carried with four bright yellow cars, each one promoting one of the four simple steps to a conversation," he explained.
"This campaign reached out to some of the most remote places in Australia, places who don’t get to see the campaign through TV and social media. So it was important to ensure nobody was missed."
Another highlight for Jake was Beagle Bay, a remote Indigenous community located outside Broome in Remote WA. Jake says encouraging youth to recognise the signs of struggling and teach them how to help a friend out is essential, especially from an early age.
"We went to the local primary school and spent the morning doing some activities with the kids. So little was so much to them, they really engaged and understood the messaging."
Are you ok?
It's hard to believe that one in three people aren't comfortable saying those three simple words to a friend, a family member or a person in the street who might be struggling. But according to new R U OK? statistics Australians aren't doing enough to support their buddies.
Psychologist and R U OK? advisor, Rachel Clements says all too often she hears people claim they're not an 'expert' or that it's 'none of their business.' She believes there's an appropriate response which could potentially save someone's life.
“We know that some conversations can be really tough. But in reality, you don’t have to be an expert to start a conversation – asking shows someone you care about them and that can make a really positive difference in their life.”
R U OK? has four simple steps to starting the conversation; ask “are you OK?”
3. Encourage Action
4. Check In
Today as the conversation convoy rolls to a close, a grand finale is set to hit Cairns. There will be a free concert on headlined by R U OK? ambassadors and performers such as Ben Lee, Travis Collins, Louise Adams, Steven Oliver, Big T, James Vancooper, Tullara Connors and Ara Larkin. The show aims to uplift and inspire people through songs interweaved with storytelling so people are able to leave feeling empowered, especially if they’re struggling.
NITV’s Channel Manager, Tanya Orman says it’s important to provide further opportunity for the important messaging and engagement of R U OK? with Indigenous Australians.
“We want to ensure our community is equipped with the knowledge of who they can call when the going gets tough for themselves or someone they know.”
R U OK? CEO, Brendan Maher says it’s an important conversation that people need to have if they’re worried about a mate or a family member.
“With suicide rates up to five times higher in Indigenous populations across the country, we have to get better at building people’s confidence and sharing a conversation roadmap.”
“Storytelling is a big part of how R U OK? gets the message out and NITV reaches more Indigenous Australians than any other media outlet, so it seems like a natural fit”, Maher said.
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.