Take the time to ask those around you 'R U Ok?' and make time for more meaningful conversations.
Take the time to ask those around you 'R U Ok?' and make time for more meaningful conversations. Wavebreakmedia

OPINION: Fight mental illness by reconnecting with friends

ABOUT 2100 Australians take their life each year and for each person who does there are 30 who attempt to.

According to the Black Dog Institute, one in five Australians aged 16-85 experience mental illness, including those listed above, yet 65% of those do not seek treatment.

Why is that we wonder? Stigma? Fear of judgment? Dismissing it as unimportant?

It's probably different for each person and we can't know for sure, but clearly something has to change.

Thursday was R U Ok Day - a national suicide prevention initiative with the mission to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life.

Life can be a struggle at times for all sorts of reasons; perhaps due to a major event or the result of a series of smaller setbacks that have just worn us down over time and we end up being pushed beyond resilience which puts our mental health and emotional well-being at risk.

Chronic mental stress leads to depression (one in seven people), anxiety and substance abuse and may result in suicide.

For me, the most important part of R U Ok's mission is the part about 'meaningfully connect'.

A lot of us, particularly adolescents, may feel we are connecting through social media, yet it's hardly meaningful.

Even when we have a conversation, whether it's face to face or over the phone, we aren't necessarily connecting, let alone meaningfully.

The tendency is for the brain to lose focus every 20 seconds or so to allow it to process what's being said which can lead to distraction and disconnection and the other person will notice it even if it's only momentary.

Given that it's likely we all know or love one of those 'one in five' (or perhaps you are that one), what can we do differently?

A couple of suggestions. Pay attention; if you notice a significant change in someone's behaviour, gently ask what's happening for them.

Slow down; although a quick "R U Ok?" can help, you may just get a 'fine' or 'yeah, all good' response.

Sometimes it's important to make time for a longer, more meaningful conversation and, when you do, be sure you are really listening and connecting. Are they really Ok? Dare to dig a little deeper and offer whatever support you can.

Rowena Hardy is a facilitator, performance coach and partner of Minds Aligned.

Do you know or someone you know need help? Phone the Lifeline Crisis Support Hotline on 13 11 14.

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