• R U OK? ambassador Steven Oliver visits Dubbo as part of Youth Week in a bid to prevent suicide. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
As part of Youth Week, R U OK? ambassador Steven Oliver will visit students in Dubbo in a bid to tackle suicide.
By
Laura Morelli

Source:
NITV News
6 Apr 2017 - 2:47 PM  UPDATED 6 Apr 2017 - 2:47 PM

As a blackfella, Steven Oliver says he’s had a lot of experience with suicide after losing people in his mob.

“I thought about it and realised I’ve been dealing with family and friends taking their lives since the age of 10.”

In 2016, the comedian was approached by suicide prevention charity R U OK? to be an ambassador. For him it was a 'no brainer'.

“Our focus is to reach and make an impact on regional and remote communities where we are acutely aware that suicide statistics are on the rise."

“We need to stop it happening with our mob, and we need to put a blackfellas' face up mainstream, so they can understand the issues were facing,” he said.

“Even as an ambassador, I’ve still dealt with losing our mob, but it’s about trying to understand why it’s happening and how to make our mob happy again.”

As part of Youth Week, R U OK? will visit Dubbo this Saturday on 8 April and their ambassador Steven Oliver will talk with local students about the importance of checking in with mates and loved ones or anyone who might be struggling.

The event, supported by Dubbo Regional CouncilTAFE NSWheadspace, Base Art Inc and the Ochre Opportunity Hub is aimed to provide support and relief to a regional city, which R U OK? CEO Brendan Maher says is crucial.

“This year our focus is to reach and make an impact on regional and remote communities where we are acutely aware that suicide statistics are on the rise,” he said.

“Having the support of a dedicated R U OK? ambassador like Steven Oliver just makes the visit all the more meaningful,” he said.

“At the end of the day, I don’t want young mob leaving and feeling good because they’ve had a laugh, but leaving feeling good about themselves because I’ve made them understand they matter.”

Steven writes poetry, songs, plays and TV Shows, but is most widely recognised for his ability to make a crowd crack up and smile. But he says there’s a deeper intention behind his comedy.

“At the end of the day, I don’t want young mob leaving and feeling good because they’ve had a laugh, but leaving feeling good about themselves because I’ve made them understand they matter.”

Steven is a modern contemporary iconic Indigenous figure for people all over the world, and it’s not just because he’s funny. He inspires and empowers people to support anyone struggling with life, especially when it comes to minority groups in society. Not just Aboriginal people, 'but the gay mobs too.'

“When you look at suicide rates, not just of our black mob but the gay mob, there’s so much shame,” he says.

“Shame is a tool that makes us feel bad about ourselves, so I try and tell my people they’re worth something and they matter. It’s hard when there’s a tidal wave of negativity, but if I can make kids understand they mean something, I have achieved something.”

The writer and actor says you’ve got to surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself.

“When I was a child, I remember watching a TV show and there was a bully. My mother looked at me and said: ‘if there’s ever someone that tries to bring you down, tell them to piss off.’ I remember that, even as a forty-year-old man, that’s stuck with me and helped me deal with things like rejection.”

Steven says there’s a high rate of incarceration against our mob and more needs to be done. He remembers visiting kids at the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville and a Brisbane youth detention Centre.

“I walked in and saw the barbed wire fences and it was heartbreaking… these kids are troubled and need help. They shouldn’t be in these places, there needs to be another way. We need to break the cycle and help them, not keep them in these places,” he said.

“I remember some young boys asked me about feeling shame putting on make-up. I said ‘no, because I hate shame. Shame's a tool to make Aboriginal and gay people feel bad about themselves… if anyone ever makes me feel shame about who I am, I don’t let them’. It was so powerful to be with them, I could tell the kids really took what I was saying in.”

Not long after his visit to youth detention centres, he experienced a different type of encounter.

“A young fella stopped me in the street and asked, ‘sir do you remember me? I heard you talk at Brisbane youth detention centre and now I’m out I’m studying at the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts’,” he said.

“The feeling stuck with me for a long time after that. I’m getting emotional just talking about it. This reminds me why I do the things I do, and it was a moving experience. I was beaming with pride as if he was my own son.”

“You’re going to make a blackfella go red.”

Even during a poignant conversation, Steven still managed to evoke laughter.

“Awww, you’re going to make a blackfella go red.”

TAFE NSW Student Engagement Officer, Brigid Palin, is thrilled to have Oliver reach out to the students on such an important subject.

“When a community is struck by tragedy, we all need to remember to look after each other,” she said.

“The people of Dubbo have experienced a number of tragic events in the past few months, so it’s important we come together this weekend and make a commitment to start these important conversations, which can be life-changing.”

Headspace Clinical Leader, Ann- Maree Hartley, will also speak to the students about resources available in their Dubbo office.

“Never let anyone ever tell you that you don’t matter. There’s too much of that going on in the world.”

“It doesn’t matter where you live in the world, youth suicide is concerning. But living in regional and remote Australia means that our local rates are always significantly higher than the national average,” she said.

“Young people are great advocates for their mates…If a friend is having problems, it can be their friend who is the first one to know and walk them through our door.”

Dubbo Regional Council’s Youth Officer, Jason Yelverton, said having Oliver visit Dubbo as part of Youth Week was a great thing.

“Steven Oliver is someone who really resonates with Dubbo youth, the fact that he’s visiting the city to discuss a much needed message during youth week, is a win for the whole community.

Steven says he’s got an important message to all mobs out there.

“Never let anyone ever tell you that you don’t matter. There’s too much of that going on in the world.”

If you or anyone you know wants to seek extra help please contact:
Lifeline on 13 11 14 
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36 
Headspace on 1800 650 890

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