Saturday, 20 September 2014 00:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

One Thursday in September school children, university undergraduates, workers and ordinary people are encouraged to ask their family members, friends and colleagues “R U OK?” As you may have guessed, they give a phone call and ask ‘Are you ok?’ in a meaningful way. Why? To make a difference in someone’s life and even save that life. The objective is to prevent suicides. R U OK? Day is described as “an annual day of action to promote mental wellbeing by encouraging open and honest conversations to stop small problems from turning into big ones.” Awareness is created throughout Australia to remind the people of the Day and to raise funds by selling a wide range of items. The total campaign is spearheaded by ‘R U OK?’ – a not-for-profit suicide prevention organisation founded six years ago. It was an idea of an Australian – Gavin Larkin by name, who was devastated after his father committed suicide leaving the family in deep grief and endless questions as to why he did it. After 12 years the son came up with this simple question which he thought was one way he could honour his father and try and protect other families from the pain he went through. With a friend – Janina Nearn – he produced a documentary to convey the message that reaching someone at risk actually reduces the chances of them taking their own life. They soon found that wasn’t enough. There was a need to for a nation-wide campaign to create awareness. Thus was born the ‘R U OK?’ to get the participation of volunteers to spread the message that “A conversation could change a life”. The response was overwhelming. Statistics show that in a year 65,000 Australians attempt to commit suicide. An average of 2,320 persons succeed. It is also found that around 45% of Australians experience mental illness in their lifetime with 20% being affected every year. “Getting connected and staying connected is the best thing anyone can do for themselves and for those who may be at risk,” founder of ‘R U OK?” has stated. She remained a passionate champion of the fact that a conversation could change a life, even as cancer ended his in 2011. Experts in suicide prevention and mental illness, government departments, corporate leaders, teachers, universities, students and community groups rally round to make the Day a great success. Many Australian celebrities and athletes have enlisted as ambassadors and supporters to help raise awareness. It has been recorded that in the inaugural year 650,000 conversations took place as a result of the campaign. The schools take the intuitive to distribute Fact Sheets among students outlining the ‘Signs that could mean a friend isn’t ok’, ‘What causes problems?’, ‘When to bring it up’ ‘What signs should I be look out for?’, and ‘What are the signs of a low mood?’ If the students show signs of a low mood for about two weeks, they are advised to bring it to the notice of a school counsellor or an adult they trust. Closer to the Day the universities use their websites to remind that being socially connected to friends, family and classmates is one of the strongest ways of measuring how good you’re feeling. The undergrads are requested to become an RU OK? Day student volunteer, take a fellow student, friend or family member out for a coffee; pick up a badge or a wristband from one of the RU OK? student rovers on the day, and to join in on the R U OK Day? Activities on offer. Yellow balloons are a symbol of R U OK? Day. The range of products on offer this year included posters, disposable coffee cups, lapel pins, ball point pens, T-shirts, tea bag packs and cocktail napkins.