R U Ok day in an initiative in Australia (I don’t think it’s international) to promote conversations and communication about mental illness and suicide by asking “Are you ok?”
I have A LOT of feelings about R U Ok day, so instead I’m going to focus more on the fact that today is also World Suicide Prevention Day.
Suicide prevention is something very close to my heart. A lot of people in my life (myself included) have struggled, and continue to struggle with mental illnesses and suicidal thoughts.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the statistics, so I won’t repeat them here. Statistics are important, but it’s far more important for us to remember that people are affected by these illnesses, not just numbers.
Even though as a society we’re getting better at talking about mental illnesses, we’re still pretty shitty at talking about suicide.
There are still SO many stigmas surrounding suicide, mostly because a lot of people are very ignorant about the subject. Not that it’s entirely their fault. It can be incredibly hard to explain the thoughts and justifications behind suicidal thinking to someone who isn’t in that headspace, even if they’ve experienced them before. Just saying ‘it’s a dark place’ doesn’t really cut it. Despite this, we really should be doing more to combat the stigma. Telling someone who is suicidal that suicide is “selfish”, or “an easy way out”, or that they’re “just bluffing”, “doing it for attention” or “may as well just do it then” isn’t going to help. A lot of the time it just makes all the awful thoughts and feelings they’re struggling to cope with more intense. (Side note: if you’ve ever told someone they should “do it” you are a disgusting human being – offence completely intended). Removing the stigma sounding suicide isn’t going to encourage people to do it (if you think that you’re an idiot), it’s simply going to help people who feel so alone, trapped, miserable and desperate speak out and get help.
A lot of the time, suicidal thoughts and self-harm go hand in hand. Which means scars. Sometimes in more subtle places, but sometimes in more obvious ones. Self harm is something else that a lot of people really struggle to understand. I don’t blame them. If you’re in a mentally healthy headspace, harming yourself seems ridiculous. But when you’re suffering from a mental illness, particularly if you’re going through a particularly dark period, you can approach things with a very different rationale. I’m not going to go into details, partially because it’s a bit too personal for me to share with the internet and also because a lot of people might find it uncomfortable. My point is, just because you don’t understand it, don’t judge someone for it. Self-harm is a sign that someone desperately needs help, not an indicator they should be more shunned. Self-harm scars are a sign that someone went through a really shit period (understatement) and came out the other side. They’re not something to be gawked at, or made fun of, or even pointed out.
R U Ok Day is a great start in opening up the conversation about mental illnesses and suicide, but it’s just a start. We need to get better at what happens when someone says no. We need to get better at talking about emotions (they’re seriously not that scary), at providing a safe space for people to seek help and be supported by those around them, and educating ourselves so that ignorance can’t hurt more people.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses, or suicidal/harmful thoughts, I’ve included a few numbers/links below that I recommend (either from personal experience or from recommendations from people I know). If you feel anxious about being judged for seeking help (which you shouldn’t), internet chatrooms or phone helplines are great, anonymous, and confidential.
Beyond Blue immediate support page: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/get-immediate-support
Suicide callback service: 1300 659 467
Headspace: 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 (5-25 years old)
Mensline Australia: 1300 78 99 78
More information about mental illness: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/ AND https://www.beyondblue.org.au/