This September 9, ask a friend if they’re okay. You could be saving a life. (Image Source: Healthline).

By Alycia Millar | @AlyciaMillar and Bec Gaitaneris @becgaitaneris

Are you OK? Three words, eight letters. Ask it and you could save a life.

R U OK? Day continues to encourage and empower Australians to start a meaningful conversation with loved ones throughout life’s ups and downs.

The day serves as a reminder for all Australians to take a moment and to ask if someone is okay.

Now, more than ever, the importance of conversation and connecting with others should not be underestimated.

Compounding factors of the pandemic are affecting our mental health and social connections; chances are we all know someone who is struggling.

Asking “Are you OK?” and having a genuine conversation can help someone feel supported long before they’re in crisis. 

R U OK? Day 2021 is fast approaching and the key campaign message is ‘Are they really OK? Ask them today’.

Making it part of every day, the R U OK? suicide prevention charity is encouraging all Australians to consider how the people in their world are really going.

In a video release, R U OK? CEO Katherine Newton said the 2021 campaign encourages all Australians to make asking ‘are you OK?’ a part of every day.

“We want to emphasise that an R U OK? conversation is not only for when someone is visibly distressed or in crisis and remind everyone that their support can make a difference for anyone who is struggling,” Ms Newton said.

“We know that when people are able to talk about what’s troubling them they feel supported, connected, and better about themselves and their situation.” 

This simple question could have a powerful impact on someone’s life and provide an opportunity to have an important conversation.

In an interview on the Morning Show, R U OK? Celebrity Ambassador and Sunrise Presenter Sam Mcmillan (Mac) said being part of the suicide prevention charity is one of the most important things he does and he is very passionate about being an advocate for mental health. 

“I lost a friend through his battles with mental health and I think it’s so great to have initiatives like R U OK Day?” Mr Mcmillan said.

“I never imagined I’d become an ambassador for mental health and I’m certainly not an expert, but I do have great knowledge from working with the R U OK? Organisation on how to have conversations and encourage people to have those conversations.

“Staying connected with friends and family is really important.”

In their 2021 campaign, R U OK? identifies exam times, uncertainty about the future, and loss of milestones like graduations and social events as key triggers for feelings of hopelessness and stress. 

R U OK? Community Ambassador Glenn Cotter believes that when asking someone if they’re okay, it’s so important to look closely at how they’re responding.

 “To me, the importance of Are they really OK? Ask them today’, is that if you’re not sure, or there’s something that doesn’t seem right, reach out and try and put yourselves in their shoes,” Mr Cotter said.

“Even if people say ‘I’m okay’ it’s important to ask them again, especially if you’re unsure.”

R U OK? also emphasises the importance of staying connected during COVID-19.

For university students, in particular, the pandemic has created more uncertainty for the future. For many students, the university campus is not just where they go to learn. It also provides an environment to build meaningful relationships that help them form important networks and alliances that develop and extend beyond their university education.

Promoting mental health and wellbeing within university settings and among students is now more important than ever.  University students are often well-positioned to notice changes in their peers’ behaviour that might indicate they are going through a tough time.

We spoke with three university students here at UniSA to find out why R U OK? Day is so important.

UniSA student Ashleigh Buck said it is so easy to just brush off how you are really feeling.

“R U OK Day is so important because it helps raise awareness about mental health by giving those who are suffering a voice to speak out,” Ms Buck said.

“Many of those who are struggling day-to-day feel like they are alone in their battles, which is not true at all. The people around you understand that no day is the same and things can get tricky every now and again, and that is okay. 

“All you have to remember is that it’s alright to ask for help and to admit that maybe you aren’t doing so great.”

Ms Buck believes leaning on the people who love you does not make you weak. It actually makes you stronger. 

“Allowing yourself to be vulnerable by facing your battles head-on shows perseverance and selflessness. It’s a strength few people have, and you should be proud of that.

“University is not an easy road, there are always speed bumps and crossroads that you will hit and it can sometimes completely derail your progress mentally. 

“I know, from experience, that burning out from overworking yourself is very easy, and it is not pleasant. Coming out of that slump can be one of the hardest things you do.

“I am very open about my mental status with all of my tutors and lecturers and that open communication has allowed me to receive support when needed, but again, I know that everyone’s experience with mental health is different.”

Generating robust mental health and wellbeing discussions within the university environment will allow those who unfortunately suffer silently to feel supported and less alone. 

Talking about mental health at university will assist students with their coursework and assignments, as well as creating a more inclusive, safe, and comfortable environment for students to express how they are really feeling. 

Fellow UniSA student, Rylee Cooper, believes it is important to take that extra step to show someone you care about them even if someone tells you they are fine.

“We live in a society where we don’t want to inconvenience people with our own emotions and burden them, so it’s important that we regularly check on our mates and show them kindness whenever we can,” Ms Cooper said.

“R U OK Day is important because it reminds us that there are other people out there who might be going through the same things we are. It reminds us to keep ourselves open to what other people might be going through.”

Ms Cooper believes there is a lot of talk about how people can help themselves, but not enough about how we can help each other. 

“Being with someone or knowing someone with a serious mental illness can be scary and it can make you feel useless if you do not know what to do, especially if the person will not help themselves,” Ms Cooper said.

UniSA student Anisha Pillarisetty spoke of the stigma attached to mental illness and how this can make it difficult to ask for help.

“Being vulnerable enough to talk about your own mental health is hard, so the onus shouldn’t be on the individual to reach out,” Ms Pillarisetty said.

To encourage as many Australians as possible to join in, R U OK? are hosting a virtual event. The online event will be hosted by R U OK? CEO Katherine Newton and R U OK? Celebrity Ambassador and Sunrise Presenter Sam Mcmillan. 

The online event is designed to build people’s confidence in knowing when and how to ask “are you OK?” The event has been designed to have attendees feeling equipped and committed to making staying connected and asking “are you OK?” a part of their every day. The event will be held on R U OK? Day (Thursday September 9) at 12:30 pm AEST. Join R U OK? Day 2021 online event 

If you or anyone you know is feeling overwhelmed or experiencing any difficulties, help is available. Get in touch with Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline 13 11 14 for immediate crisis support.

If you’re unsure how to support your uni mates who might be struggling, resources are available to help you start a conversation. Visit: https://www.ruok.org.au/education or https://au.reachout.com/.