Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 13, 2023


R U OK? Day

The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON (16:40): I move:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that 14 September 2023 is R U OK? Day;

2. Recognises the important work and advocacy R U OK? Day does in the mental health space;

3. Encourages people to ask others R U OK?, supporting mental health and awareness in our community; and

4. Notes the contribution R U OK? Day has made to the attitude and discussion to mental health since its inaugural event in 2009.

An unknown number of Australians attempt suicide every year, but there is an estimate that suggests that figure exceeds 65,000 Australians per year. There are 8.6 Australians who commit suicide per day; that is more than double the road toll. Suicide is the leading cause of death for those aged between 15 and 44, and we know that people in rural and regional populations are two times more likely to take their life. The suicide rate in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is twice that of their non-Indigenous counterparts, and 75 per cent of those who take their own life are male.

Members interjecting:

The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON: Is everyone listening? These are startling figures; these are figures that I had to do a double take on when I first read them. They are figures that I hope shock and concern everybody in this place.

I am sure that every single person who is in this chamber right now would be aware of someone who is close to them who has had their own mental health battles and challenges, and perhaps there may even be some people in this chamber who have had their own battles along the way.

Too often, I think we get so preoccupied and busy with our day-to-day lives and the hustle and bustle that sometimes we might miss people who might need that little bit of extra support. When we ask if someone is okay, are we really listening to them? Do we really dig that little bit deeper when perhaps they say, 'I'm good'? How often do we really say, 'Are you sure? Do you want to have a chat?' How often do we get so caught up in the busyness of life that we neglect our own wellbeing? How often do we let pride, perhaps, get in the way when we do need to ask for that little bit of support if we are struggling?

Tomorrow marks R U OK? Day. I hope that this serves as a reminder, as we reflect on these tragically high statistics, that this can serve as a prompt, a reminder, to check in with a loved one, to check in with your family, your friends, your colleagues, but also really importantly to check in with yourself. Go for that walk or that run, take care of your wellbeing, perhaps make that appointment with the psychologist that you have been dreading. Make that first step in getting help and acknowledging that perhaps you might not be okay—and you know what, that is okay too.

An estimated one in three Australians reported feeling lonely. R U OK? Day is a public health promotion charity that encourages people to stay connected and have conversations that can help others through difficult times in their lives. R U OK? Day contributes to suicide prevention efforts by encouraging people to invest more time in their personal relationships and building the capacity of informal support networks—friends, family, colleagues—to be alert to those around them, have conversations if they identify signs of distress or difficulty, and connect someone to the appropriate support before they are in crisis.

We know that when someone takes their life it has a ripple effect. Lifeline has shown that beyond the tragic loss of the person, the impact of suicide deaths is felt by up to 135 people. Let that sink in—135 people. The family, the friends, the colleagues, and the first responders at the time of death are all impacted by each death. Today, I move this motion to keep the conversation going. I move this motion in the hope of continuing to break down the stigma that is often associated with talking about mental health and to acknowledging that people are not always okay. Because, after all, it is okay to not be okay.

The Hon. B.R. HOOD (16:45): I rise to support the honourable member's motion and to acknowledge that 14 September 2023 is R U OK? Day. R U OK? Day, since its establishment in 2009, has contributed significantly to mental health advocacy and reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. Stigma surrounding mental health in our regions has often taken the form of the toughen up culture, particularly for men and for farmers. Fortunately, this outdated outlook on mental health has been replaced with a more progressive approach thanks to initiatives such as R U OK? Day.

R U OK? Rural and Remote Mateship Manual, created especially for rural residents, acknowledges that those living in rural areas can find it harder to deal with mental health issues and provides an approach to supporting those suffering in silence. With farmers particularly less likely to access mental health care, combined with rural stoicism and embedded mental health stigma, it is devastating, yet unsurprising, that suicide rates are two times higher in regional South Australia.

Isolation, loneliness and fear of future prospects are a few contributors to the exacerbation of mental health in our regions. On top of this, we know that our regions are prone to natural disasters, particularly bushfires and floods, which only adds to the pressure and stress, increasing anxieties for rural families, emergency services workers and the wider community. As we approach another hot and dry Aussie summer, these anxieties will undoubtedly surface once more.

It is heartening to hear that 60 per cent of people believe that the R U OK? message has reduced the stigma surrounding mental health. R U OK? Day has been implemented in school communities across Australia, creating a positive culture for supporting young people's mental health that is having a ripple effect for all Australians, stemming from our youngest generation.

I would like to pay special mention to Allendale East Area School, which early in May was recognised for championing the R U OK? message through efforts to change attitudes of both staff and students by encouraging support between friends, classmates and colleagues. I congratulate Allendale East Area School for their efforts and approach to rural mental health and for receiving the R U OK? Education Award at the 2023 Barbara Hocking Memorial Awards.

Recently, in Mount Gambier, we have seen the establishment of a dedicated hub at the Mulga Street Primary School that offers support during our current cost-of-living crisis. Thanks to a grant from OneFortyOne, the Mulga Street Hub assists struggling families with a range of goods to ensure that our children are in the best possible position to learn, as well as providing pastoral support.

We have also seen workplaces and industries adopt the message to encourage supportive conversations between staff and to implement awareness and consideration for colleagues who may be struggling with their mental health. 'R U OK?' is a simple question, with immeasurable impact. The question prompts meaningful conversations that could save a life. I encourage the R U OK? Day message, and I am pleased with its positive contributions to the discussions of mental health, particularly in regional South Australia, since its inaugural event in 2009.

Of course, R U OK? Day really should be every day, and I hope that we reach out to all of our mates, our friends and our family and ask them tomorrow, and every day, 'R U OK?' I commend the motion to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.