A focus on suicide prevention and providing support for people experiencing mental ill-health will continue in Ballarat on Thursday.
While R U OK? is recognised on September 12 in Australia every year, recent tragedies and horrifying statistics have highlighted the urgent need for conversation in Ballarat.
AFL legend and community champion Danny Frawley died after his car hit a tree on Monday, the same day two funerals were held for well-known Ballarat people whose lives were cut short.
No matter how hopeless things are there is hope.Graeme Cowan, R U OK?
New figures released in July revealed the suicide rate for Ballarat men was almost 30 per cent higher than for men across Victoria.
The people of Ballarat are reeling from the impacts of too many premature deaths.
Mental health and suicide prevention advocates have said starting a conversation and providing support is the first step towards prevention, with a need for a long-term focus on holistic health and well-being.
R U OK? encourages people to look out for changes in behaviour that could signal a friend or family member may need support.
"We want to empower people to trust their gut instinct and ask the question as soon as they spot the signs that someone might be struggling with life," R U OK? CEO Katherine Newton says.
The Courier spoke to Graeme Cowan, non-executive director of R U OK? and one of the founders of the organisation.
He shared his story of five years experiencing depression and his attempt to take his own life.
He wanted to share a message of hope to those experiencing mental ill-health this R U OK? Day.
"I felt so desperate once to the point where I wrote a suicide note. In 2004 I attempted to take my own life. I felt I would never ever get better," he said.
"No matter how hopeless things are there is hope. People have been where you are and they have come back. My message to anyone who feels that way is to just take one step today to let a friend know how you are feeling, make an appointment with your doctor or your psychologist or call a helpline. Just take one step today."
Watch Lane Beachley share her experience of mental ill-health below.
Statistics show men account for 75 per cent of all suicides. Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australian men aged 15 to 44.
Mr Cowan said knowing other people care was incredibly important to recover from mental ill-health, a gesture that can start with a conversation or an action like buying someone lunch, babysitting or helping at their property.
"Starting a conversation is a critical element because it can encourage someone to seek help," he said.
Mr Cowan recommends a four step approach to starting a conversation: mention a change in their behaviour you have noticed and ask 'are you okay?', listen without judgement, encourage action, and check in a few days later to see if they have taken that action.
Ballarat sporting role models have taken action to encourage conversations about mental health in the community.
The Ballarat Youth League Miners chose to support the R U Okay? Foundation this year to promote conversation about mental health, particularly for young males, and raise funds for the organisation.
Ballarat Youth League Miners coach Ryan McKew said the young players wanted to break down stigma surrounding mental health.
"The typical young male doesn't cry, doesn't show his feelings and is tough all the time, but they realised that is not how it needs to be anymore," he said.
"They said their dads or older brothers have gone through serious mental health problems and want that to be okay, regardless of if you are a 16 year old boy or a 30 year old man."
Ballarat Youth League Miners player Zac Dunmore said the team wanted everyone with mental health issues to know they would be supported.
"It is important to speak up and not be afraid to talk to each other about our issues," he said.
"We wanted to raise awareness and this was a good opportunity for us to do something outside of basketball."
Beyond Blue statistics show one in six Australians is currently experiencing depression or anxiety or both.
While seeking support appears to be growing at a rapid rate, Mr Cowan said communities should focus on holistic well-being as a preventative measure.
"Self-care isn't selfish. You have to keep topping up your energy and resilience to your physical health, emotional support and energy that comes from the work we do," he said.
"I found in my own situation simply resolving to walk 30 minutes every day was an important turning point for me."
Ballarat Community Health is hosting a preventative mental health event focusing on social and cultural factors that influence well-being, particularly for men, on October 28 from 5.30pm to 8.30pm at Ballarat Community Health Lucas.
The Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System is due to deliver an interim report in November and a final report by October 2020, with recommendations on improvements to access to mental health services, service navigation and models of care.
If you or someone you know needs support, help is available:
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Mensline Australia Line 1300 789 978
- Kids Help 1800 55 1800
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
What are the signs someone is experiencing mental ill-health?
What are they saying?
- Confused or irrational
- Difficulty switching off
- Struggling to see a future
- Concerned they're a burden on others
- They feel worthless or alone
- They feel trapped or in unbearable pain
- Lonely or lacking self-esteem
What are they doing?
- Experiencing mood swings
- Becoming withdrawn
- Changing online behaviour
- Losing interest in what they used to love
- Difficulty concentrating
- Less interested in their personal hygiene or appearance
- Behaving recklessly
- Changing sleep patters
What's going on in their life?
- Relationship breakdown
- Major health issues
- Work pressure or constant stress
- Financial difficulty
- Study pressures
- Loss of someone or something they care about
Visit ruok.org.au/ for more tips and a guide on how to start a conversation with someone about their mental health.
Read the full interview with R U OK? non-executive director Graeme Cowan below.
Tell me about your own experience and what led to you being one of the people who started R U Ok?
I was in a senior management role when I was working and then I went through a really bad depression. I was really depressed for five years. I had given up hope. I had lost my job, my marriage broke down. I had attempted to take my own life. I couldn't see that it would improve. I did start to recover through good medical care. I started to walk regularly, reconnected with family and friends and the writing my book Back From The Brink. In the process of writing my book Back From The Brink about not just me but other people who had been through depression and come out the other side, that is where I got to meet Gavin Lycon. Gavin had lost his father to suicide. We had an instant bond. He had the regret of losing his father and I had the relief I didn't put my family through the same thing so I do really understand the unique elements that do relate to men's health.
Men account for 75 per cent of all suicides. They are much less likely to seek help and that is a problem.
You come from a dairy farming background. I am interested in talking about regional communities. Ballarat is a decent sized centre but when you are in smaller communities where it is harder to access face to face support, what are your tips for people?
There are some good resources out there, but I also don't think we can underestimate the importance of friends supporting friends. Just having people know that you care is incredibly important to recovery. Secondly when we are in remote communities there still are very good resources available for help. With men's mental health there is MensLine, counselors there that are used to dealing with men. There is also Lifeline and Suicide Callback Service. Depending on the individual there is also specialist helplines for veterans and the LGBTQI community as well. There is a lot of things out there but they can be quite hard to find unless you look for it. There is a section on where to find help on the R U Ok? website because people don't always know, so that can be a helpful resource.
R U Ok? Day is a lot about starting a conversation. That is talked about as a major solution to bring down the rates of suicide. How do you go about starting a conversation? The question is R U Ok? But how do you manage it from there if someone says they are not okay?
Of course a conversation is the start but it is not the whole solution. But the conversation is a critical element because the conversation can encourage someone to seek help. That can be a really critical element because when people are desperate and distressed they often think in black and white terms so they may not be as willing to seek out someone.
We talk about a four step approach in the conversation.
Step one is to ask are you okay? But we tend to recommend doing it a bit more subtly than that. You might ask to be in a private place or go for a walk with the person you are concerned about. Just make an observation about the change in behaviour you have seen. Someone might not be coming to Friday night drinks anymore or going to the footy or going to movies or something they usually like to do. You might say 'I have just noticed this, are you okay? Is everything okay?' That is the way we ask.
The second step is to listen without judgement. What that means is try to keep asking open ended questions to get the person to talk and keep talking. Very often with men the first thing you notice isn't the full picture. Just a little bit of curiosity and additional questions to get them to what might be the real situation. Then hopefully in that situation they do admit that they are struggling.
The third step is to encourage action. That can be to see their GP or call a helpline or go to an anonymous self test on the Black Dog institute or Beyond Blue.
The fourth step is to check in two or three days later, to follow up with the person and see if they have taken the action they said they were going to take. That is the important step because when people are in distress they often think they have tried everything. Sometimes following up is an important component to ensure they follow through.
So that is ask, listen, encourage action and check in.
What happens if people say they are fine and you are still really concerned? This is a very common response, especially with men. What we recommend in that scenario is saying 'I understand you may not be ready to talk now but I am still concerned because of these issues or a change of behaviour'. They might say yes or no but either way you should say do you mind if I just follow up next week and see how things are tracking. There is nothing wrong with going back a second, third or fourth time. You don't know when someone is going to be ready. That emotional support is a really important element of recovery.
Other than having conversations what do we need to do to prevent suicide in communities?
Sometimes it isn't just conversation. Sometimes it can be what you do that shows you care. I went to an R U Ok? Function in Canberra last week and we had a speaker who was a senior person in the treasury. He shared the last few years he had struggled personally and people at work had been really helpful. But what he said is one person just started buying him lunch every day because they noticed he wasn't eating. He knew how much they cared by taking that action. It can be something like that, offering to babysit or help the farm, actions that show that you care.
One of the really important things if you do suspect someone is suicidal is the removal of weapons and things that could be used to end someone's life. Guns is a big thing in regional areas. If you can remove those things it could have a dramatic effect on reducing suicide.
I understand you believe in a holistic approach to mental health and wellbeing as a solution.
Very much so. When I talk to people I talk about our level of well-being and resilience. I put it in three glasses of water and let people know that when glasses of water are outside they start to evaporate so we have to keep topping up our well-being.
The first glass is made up of vitality, physical health and where we get our physical energy from. Exercise, sleeping well, eating well. The second glass is around intimacy and emotional support. This is having people around us that are good for us and have our best interests at heart and making sure we make a priority of seeing people that help us and are good for us. The third glass is prosperity. This is our contribution and energy that comes through the work we do, the community activity we do, volunteering for schools or sports or a cause you are passionate about or asking people are you okay? I tell people that self care isn't selfish and you have to act like a VIP. You have to keep topping up your energy and resilience to each of those three glasses, the vitality, their emotional support and their prosperity. It is not big changes that need to be made, it is little things that are done consistently. A lot of people think to turn things around you have to run a marathon or spend a couple of hours in the gym. I found in my own situation just resolving to walk 30 minutes every day was an important turning point for me.
Do you think as a preventative measure we need to transition to that type of thinking about holistic well-being more regularly?
Definitely. I talk about a mood-omoter. There is three zones in the mood-omoter. There is the green zone, the amber zone, the red zone. It is much easier and cheaper to keep people in the green zone than to try to help them once they are in the red zone. I know first hand how hard it is to recover from the red zone. I know first hand it is easier to do the preventative things that keep us well so I am a huge advocate for people putting little rituals in place that keep them in the green zone and keep them well.
The additional thing I would like to share is I felt so desperate once to the point where I wrote a suicide note. In 2004 I attempted to take my own life. I felt I would never ever get better. I do have a really fulfilling and meaningful life now, a great life now. Yesterday on Linked In I shared my 2004 suicide note but also said the life I have now. There is hope and if you don't have hope please reach out. That post went viral. It was a graphic illustration that no matter how hopeless things are that there is hope. People have been where you are and they have come back. My message to anyone reading who feels that way is to just take one step today to let a friend know how you are feeling. Make an appointment with your doctor or your psychologist or call a helpline. Just take one step today. That would be my final message.