September 9th is R U OK?Day, but it’s important to keep asking the question and starting conversations all year round.
9 September, 2021
R U OK? seems like such a simple question to ask and yet it is one that can have such important and far-reaching outcomes. The second Thursday each September is R U OK?Day and in the midst of continuing lockdowns and all that that brings with it, that simple question has perhaps never been more important.
While R U OK?Day shines the spotlight on mental health and the importance of being there for friends, work colleagues and loved ones, the message from harm prevention organisation
R U OK? is that every day is a good day to start a conversation.
“R U OK?Day is our national day of action, but these conversations need to be happening everyday” says Katherine Newton, CEO of R U OK?
“The message this year is – Are they really OK? Ask them today. We’re asking you to think about the people in your world who might need a chat and to start that conversation today. Don’t wait until they’re visibly distressed or in crisis.”
This year, the ongoing lockdowns and restrictions caused by COVID-19 have increased the pressure felt by individuals and communities across the board. That everyone is somehow affected by the pandemic means it has served as a catalyst for talking about mental health.
“People have been open to it and have been more inquisitive as a result of COVID-19 and the effect it has had on everyone, not only those dealing with anxiety and depression.”
“There is a little bit more empathy, and there is a little less stigma,” says Newton.
This fact alone helps in starting the all-important conversations that R U OK? seeks to promote through encouraging communities, businesses and events to connect and empowering individuals to ask the question of those around them who may be struggling.
To that end, 2021 once again saw the R U OK? team hit the road where safely able to do so. The R U OK? Conversation Convoy travelled in yellow Q7s to events and towns across NSW, Victoria and Tasmania to safely meet with people and communities and help promote the R U OK? message. This ongoing partnership with the Audi Foundation dates back to 2017 when the foundation supplied the now familiar Audi Q7s to the very first Conversation Convoy – a format which has continued ever since, visiting different parts of the country and countless communities, many of which are physically remote or away from the big city centres.
“The association with Audi Foundation changed the way we can physically connect with people,” says Newton.
“We’re a small team … we’re not a support service and we’re not a training provider so we can stay lean. When it’s safe to do so, we physically go to the places where we are needed and where we are invited to share the R U OK? message and listen to what communities around Australia need from us,” she says.
This allows the team to interact with people everywhere from major cities to rural and regional centres, the ‘Convoy’ not only serving as transportation for the team but also raising the profile of the organisation along the way – which in itself is a conversation starter.
“The partnership and the use of the bright yellow Q7s has also allowed R U OK? to be seen as a a conversation opener,” explains Newton. “The R U OK? message is one of hope, inspiration and empowerment and the bright, colourful Q7’s represent that message.”
This year the R U OK? Conversation Convoy visited regional events as diverse as Riverina Field Days in Griffith NSW to AgFest in Launceston Tasmania as well as paying visits to Audi dealerships in Launceston Tasmania and Mornington, Melbourne and Shepparton in Victoria.
In addition to these scheduled stops and events, it’s often the unscheduled stops in transit that yield some of the most memorable and poignant conversations for Katherine Newton.
“It’s the fuel station stops and coffee shops along the way where I have my most insightful and impactful conversations,” she says.
“People see the cars and it starts important conversations. It allows people to have a quick, five-minute chat in an informal setting.”
Regardless of where or when, the important thing is taking the time to ask the question of those friends, family and colleagues around you and be prepared to listen, according to Katherine Newton.
"We want to normalise these conversations. You don’t have to wait until you see signs of visible distress. Don’t wait to ask.”
Many people initially respond to the question with ‘I’m fine’ and that’s ok. We know that when we ask often and with authenticity, we build trust.
“What’s behind this year’s message “Are they really OK? Ask them today” that is that we want you to consider how the people in your world are really going,” says Katherine.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to approach a conversation armed with solutions. But being there to listen is a major first step – allowing people to be heard and to feel valued.
“It’s about empathy, not sympathy,” says Katherine.
And having asked the question and had someone open up and share their thoughts with you, it’s also important to follow up with them.
At the end of the day – every day – asking R U OK? is something that we can all do.
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