Here in Australia September 15 is a special day in the field of mental health – RUOK Day is a national initiative which
aims to prevent suicide by encouraging Australians to connect with someone they care about and help stop little problems turning into big ones.
On that day we want everyone across the country, from all backgrounds and walks of life, to ask family, friends and colleagues: “Are you OK?”.
Staying connected with others is crucial to our general health and wellbeing. Feeling isolated or hopeless can contribute to depression and other mental illnesses, which can ultimately result in suicide. Regular, meaningful conversations can protect those we know and love.
It’s so simple. In the time it takes to have a coffee, you can start a conversation that could change a life.*
I have not had an easy life – could have been worse of course (can’t it always), but regardless it was not an easy life. I won’t share everything, but have already mentioned my father’s sudden death when I was 14 years old which was a turning point for me. From my late teenage years onwards I have suffered from various periods of being in “a funk”. Between the changes in my home and later problems, I have had numerous times where life became a huge struggle for me. I have used food, therapy (some successful and some dismal), distraction, alcohol and plain running away as my attempts to heal or simply stop the pain.
I am forever grateful that when I reached rock bottom with PND there was someone there to notice. I am forever grateful that a child health nurse in Sydney noticed I was not improving and asked permission to call my doctor. I don’t know if I would have ever got to the point where I reached for the phone on my own. Long before there was a call to action urging people to be proactive and ask others if they need help, she did so. She was sensitive and caring, but would not let me pretend any longer. She saved my life.
In my darkest hours I would contemplate running away and leaving my children and husband behind – they would surely be better off. In my darkest hours I would contemplate taking my own life – they would surely be better off.
Thanks to that nurse getting me to my doctor I ended up on medication. The medication did not cure me overnight – it was a hard struggle for two full years including relapses. The medication healed me enough for me to see through that dark cloud and realise NO they would not be better off. I realised that my pain would be over, but theirs would just be beginning. It would be something they would live with forever. So for my beautiful girls I fought hard in this battle. I still fight this battle every now and then. I have learned valuable tools through my support group and I have to remind myself to use them to keep fighting the fight.
I have always encouraged people to be open about their PND experiences as communication, and reducing the stigma attached to mental health issues, will save lives. If you are willing to be vulnerable and share your stories then someone else might feel less alone. If you are a survivor and you share your story you give others hope. If you are on medication and willing to talk about it you take away the shame. Too many people are afraid to share, get help, go on medication and we can all put an end to that. If only they knew how many other people suffer, need treatment, take medication … who knows how many lives we cold save.
I am asking you to be open.
I am asking you to be brave.
I am asking you to share your story with your family, your friends, a neighbour.
I am asking you to let the light in.
Ask someone you know R U OK?
Let them be heard.
Let them be seen.
Let them be validated.
Let them share.
When you ask someone you know R U OK – stop and really listen – really listen to what they say or don’t say.
Notice when someone who is usually bubbly stops chatting.
Notice when someone from your book group or playgroup stops showing up.
Notice when someone normally reserved starts drinking and going out dancing.
Notice the changes for they are clues.
and keep asking are you okay?
My resources page for PND includes Australian and overseas support – most sites that have resources specific to PND/PPD also have general information to help anyone suffering with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or any other mental health illness. There is help, support and understanding out there for you.
If you are not sure how to ask someone if they are okay please have a look at this resource sheet that gives great advice to help you start a conversation.
* information on the initiative from R U OK official site