Repurposing R U OK Day
By Shane Pinnegar
Whilst I welcome any effort to normalise the conversation about legitimate mental illness and depression and anxiety and all the side effects of abuse and maltreatment in our overly-paced society, R U OK Day is a bitter pill to swallow in some ways.
People being people, they are by nature lazy arses, and often they will take this opportunity to ‘check off’ what they consider their duty of care, just as they might wear a paper poppy in November, or a purple ribbon or thank a secretary once a year.
Sadly, depression and anxiety don’t only occur once a year – for many of us, these are problems we deal with daily, or at the very least, must be vigilant about daily.
Rather than using this one day of the year to reach out to that one person you know has talked about mental health issues and ask “R U OK?”, why not repurpose the day to educate yourself and those around you about mental illness and how you can better notice it in those around you, and how you can offer better support for them when they are struggling?
I have had more than enough people messaging me once a year to ask “R U OK” and then when I reply honestly, not hearing from them again for another year. Just asking the question isn’t enough – in fact, it makes things worse. It’s tokenistic and lazy.
If you truly want to help, reach out at random. Notice that someone isn’t doing so well. Have they gone silent for extended periods? Have their social media posts become darker, more negative? Reach out and ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
Sometimes all we need is someone to talk to about the weight upon us. Other times we don’t even want that – just knowing someone can see our struggle, and cares enough to send a hug, is enough to bring a little ray of sunshine into our lives.
It’s impossible to properly explain the feelings, the turmoil, of anxiety and depression to someone who has never suffered them. It’s a weight crushing your chest, an icicle stabbing into your brain, a rising panic that fogs your rational thought, and constant inability to see clear reason, leading to poor choices. That’s where self-harm and self-destructive behaviour and poor decisions come from. It doesn’t need to be healthy or rational to feel like an escape from pain.
But that’s just my experiences – I have no doubt that others experience anxiety and depression very differently.
I make no apologies for sharing the reasons for my mental health issues. Crushing disappointment, betrayal, emotional abuse, estrangement from my only child. That’s enough to do it, enough to have me self-harming in various ways over the years, and enough to have me feeling like those who love me would be better off without me. I’ve been very vocal about it. All that’s managed is to estrange other people. The conversation is just too difficult for them to give credit or acknowledgement, I suppose. I’m not counting or hoping for people to reach out, but I can tell you that no-one has today as yet. I think it’s because a lot of people only want to ask those who won’t “burden” them with an honest answer and need help.
I guess what I am trying to say is that R U OK Day, whilst positive in its intention, could be repurposed as an educational day very easily. Use it to ask HOW you can help. Don’t just use it to pay lip service to something you don’t and can’t understand. Use it to make a difference to someone’s day – or to someone’s life.
www.ruok.org.au has examples of how to see the signs of mental health problems and how to engage someone who is suffering in order to offer them some real support. Use the day to read them.