I’m one of these people who are skeptical about the value of RUOK day. It honestly feels like it’s a self serving day for people to feel good about themselves, and pat themselves on the back for being so kind as to reach out to someone they think might be struggling. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate setting aside one day a year to talk about suicide openly, and to ask the people around you how they’re doing. But really isn’t that a discussion we should be having regularly with our loved ones and friends, instead of a tokenistic offering once a year? And do we really talk about suicide openly, ever?
Right now, the day seems merely an excuse to change one’s facebook status to something vaguely sympathetic about being here for people who need to talk, which is all fine and well, but how many of those posters actually follow up and check on those unwell individuals after the day is through. You’re most likely to get one or two platitudes in your inbox that tell us you’re there for us. But that offer seems to expire at midnight, as the day of awareness ends. People seem to be quite adept at asking if you’re okay, but when it comes to helping to find them professional help, or following up on that person the whole concept seems to fail. Most neurotypical people don’t know how the mental health system works, and so they’re not particularly good at guiding one to help. Most don’t know about a GP being able to arrange a mental health care plan, or how to go about finding professional help. Then there’s the follow up. The most often response I’ve had is “Do you think you should talk to someone?” You see the thing is, I’ve been ‘speaking’ to someone for 18 years and I’m still sick. I’ve been taking medication for nearly two decades and the doctors are still trying to get it right. I might never be okay again. I might always have psychotic symptoms. There’s a good chance that thoughts of suicide will always be in the back of my mind, regardless of the medications I take or the therapy I engage in. Nobody teaches people what to say then, do they? “I’m here for you” is the general fumbled response. But really, most are only there for you one day a year. The other 364 days, you’re on your own.
To give you an example, since starting this blog two months ago, I’ve had up to a hundred visitors a day read my latest posts about feeling suicidal. Do you know how many people have enquired to see if I’m okay? 4 (It was 2, but then 2 people got in touch today before I posted this). Even some of the people I’m closest to didn’t say a thing. Now, that’s no slight on those who didn’t enquire how I was, but it does go to show you what effort people will go to the other 364 days of the year when they’re not being rewarded with a little yellow RUOK? sticker that they can post to their social media. I suspect that people just don’t have a clue what to say to someone who’s thinking of suicide, so instead, they say nothing. There should be a line of greeting cards that you can send that say “Please don’t knock yourself off because I would miss your face” or “The ceiling can’t hold your weight, so don’t bother!” but alas, there aren’t. We’re just not very good at talking about suicide. We get all weird about it and worried we’ll say the wrong thing. All there is this one stupid day where you feel like you have to say “I’m fine, thanks for asking” because the honest answer would just make it awkward for you both. A similar RUOK campaign should run all year round, instead of just one day a year. We need to teach young people mental health first aid so they grow up knowing how to care for individuals that are suicidal. Hell, we need adults to do mental health first aid classes to empower them to know they can help if someone replies “No, I’m not doing okay”.
If you asked me today whether I’m okay, I’d tell you no. I’d tell you last night I spent hours reading about the most lethal & successful ways to take my life. You’d probably tell me to call Lifeline, which I’ve already done twice in the last month. And then you’d tell me you were thinking about me and that if I ever need to talk, you’d be there. But I wouldn’t take you up on it. I wouldn’t want to burden you with my neuroses. And so on, and so forth until next year’s RUOK? day. Instead, there should be a Book In For A Mental Health Care Plan day. The government offers up to 10 highly subsidized appointments with a mental health professional of your choice. It could be a Psychiatrist to get a diagnosis, or a Psychologist to talk about some of the things in your life that are distressing you. Most people don’t realize that to arrange them, all you have to do is book an appointment for a Mental Health Care Plan at the GP’s. You don’t even have to do the work to arrange someone to see, your doctor should have some good leads themselves.
Then you call and make an appointment with that mental health professional, and when you go along, don’t forget to take your referral. For me, it makes a $180 session roughly about $30 for an hour session. If you want to be a real friend, go along to sit in the waiting room at that appointment. Or hold the hand of someone who’s nervous about getting a mental health care plan. That’s what a real friend does when someone says they’re not okay. Help them make an appointment to talk to someone who can get a plan started to get them and keep them well. And check in every now and then. It doesn’t have to be every day, or even every week, but a message every few weeks just to let someone know you’re thinking of them and hoping their treatment is going well is more than enough.
The more often we do things like talking about this this, the less stigma surrounds Mental Illness and Suicide. The more we talk about it, the less fear there is in it, the more likely people will openly admit they need help. And isn’t that what the RUOK program is all about? Getting people who need help, help? Getting to be okay is a journey, but when people are with you on that journey, it makes it much less tiresome.