Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 27, 2023



R U OK? Day

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. L.A. Henderson:

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.

(Continued from 13 September 2023.)

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:44): I rise to thank the Hon. Laura Henderson for moving the motion to acknowledge R U OK? Day and I would like to express my support for this important motion. Living in an increasingly challenging world, when things do not always go the way we want them to, people around us may be dealing with sadness and the grief of losing a loved one, marriage breakdown, health issues, cost-of-living pressures, mortgage stress or the anxiety of juggling a work-life balance and meeting family and community expectations can become overwhelming. Sometimes we just need someone to reach out to us asking that simple question: are you OK?

R U OK? encourages people to meaningfully connect and have conversations that can help others through difficult times in their lives. Sometimes, when someone is going through a difficult time, conversations may include discussions about mental health and suicide. Since the establishment of its inaugural event in 2009, R U OK? has become a public health promotion charity that has extensively contributed to mental health advocacy.

As the shadow minister for multicultural South Australia, I know full well about the sensitive issues for multicultural communities when it comes to mental health. Often, there are many layers of challenges for members from our culturally and linguistically diverse communities to express themselves openly due to social norms, a sensitive nature or stigma attached to their cultural backgrounds. They are often too shy, too embarrassed, too scared, too isolated or even too proud to let their family and friends know that they are not okay.

The feelings of isolation, loneliness and fear that they do not fit in with others in the community make them depressed, uneasy, overwhelmed or feel that life is out of control. They may be suffering from depression or starting to have suicidal thoughts that cause ill mental health. New migrants who have limited English-speaking abilities and refugees and asylum seekers who have post-traumatic experience often have greater social and cultural barriers and do not know where to get help when they first arrive in Australia. This problem is further exacerbated due to the stigma and lack of awareness about mental health issues and resources that are available to help them tackle challenging situations and complex feelings.

I want to acknowledge the great work by the R U OK? organisation in providing translated resources to support the most vulnerable members of our multicultural communities. I recall that I personally wrote to the CEO of R U OK?, Katherine Newton, during the dark period of the COVID-19 pandemic to ask for help. I came to the realisation that our multicultural communities were facing increasing stress and pressures as many were worrying about COVID infections and potential job losses. Businesses were suffering under COVID restrictions and international students were worrying about their studies, parents and families in their home countries.

I am incredibly grateful that R U OK? responded to my call to increase the number of languages in their resources. When the crisis in Afghanistan was unfolding, I wrote to R U OK? and advocated strongly to have their resources translated into the most widely spoken languages in Afghanistan, which are namely Dari, Farsi and Pashto. When the war in Ukraine broke out, I again wrote to Katherine, R U OK? CEO, to advocate for their resources to be translated into Ukrainian languages.

I am extremely pleased to now see that R U OK? posters and social media tiles are available in all those languages I mentioned, as well as Hindi, Italian, Chinese, Punjabi, Persian and Spanish, while their website has also been fully translated into simplified Chinese, Vietnamese, Greek, Korean and Arabic.

Additionally, resources are also available in four central Australian Aboriginal languages. Together, these resources provide information to some of our most vulnerable and neglected communities and break down the barriers in these communities surrounding mental health issues and suicide prevention.

I want to sincerely thank the R U OK? board, CEO, researchers, staff, ambassadors and volunteers who work tirelessly to ensure that their campaigns and resources are made available for all community members during their time of need. We are grateful that R U OK? has succeeded as a public health promotion charity that motivates us all to start life-changing conversations and to create a more connected world. Let us all do our part to reach out to those who may just need a friend or a complete stranger to care enough about their welfare and wellbeing to ask: R U OK?

I want to thank the Hon. Laura Henderson again for moving this motion. With those remarks, I support this motion wholeheartedly.

The Hon. S.L. GAME (17:50): I rise very briefly to support the motion put forward by the honourable member and also the sentiment from the Hon. Jing Lee. I only wanted to add, briefly, that it is important that we look out for those around us year-round: family, friends and those in our society.

Life can be difficult and unpredictable, and even when we do ask for help it can be difficult to get the services that we need. But with the support and inclusion from those around us, we can get through difficult times.

The Hon. T.T. NGO (17:51): I rise to speak on behalf of the government in support of this motion. We cannot underestimate the importance and significance of the R U OK? mental health initiative. The value of promoting conversations and checking in on the wellbeing of others is a way of opening doors of encouragement for people to seek help when needed.

For individuals impacted by mental health, this important step can be an overwhelming one. However, as we know, it is an essential step and often the only way a person can, with the right support, start living their best life. R U OK? is now an Australian mental health promotion charity that grew from the R U OK? Day promotion launched in 2009. The initiative is helping individuals, families and communities to recognise the early warning signs of suicide-related distress in ourselves and in others.

Its fundamental purpose is to help people to feel safe enough to say how they are feeling and empower people to ask for help, or offer it to others. Importantly, R U OK? promotes the reduction of stigma, the importance of human connection and early intervention and, importantly, a community spirit as we are reminded that we are not alone in our struggles. R U OK? encourages us to learn more about mental health and the importance of looking after ourselves and others. The improvement of an individual's mental wellbeing will ease the fear and stigma associated with talking about suicide-related distress and support.

In 2021, South Australia became the first state in Australia to pass a Suicide Prevention Act. This act aims to reduce the incidence of suicide in South Australia and promotes a whole of government and whole of community approach to suicide prevention. Under the act, the government established the Suicide Prevention Council, tasked with the responsibility of developing and maintaining a suicide prevention plan. The South Australian Suicide Prevention Plan 2023-2026 was launched on 12 July 2023.

We can all help in recognising the importance of action in our efforts to help prevent suicide. The South Australian government encourages all South Australians to learn how to recognise the signs of distress and make a habit of asking one another: R U OK?

The success of R U OK? in changing attitudes and encouraging discussions is supported through studies conducted for R U OK? It is pleasing to note that comparisons of studies in 2014 and 2019 found that the awareness of the campaign and the participation rates increased from 66 per cent and 19 per cent to 78 per cent and 32 per cent respectively. In addition, the study found that Australians exposed to the R U OK? Day campaign were up to six times more likely to talk to someone who they thought might be experiencing personal difficulties than people who had not been exposed to the campaign.

R U OK? is a powerful reminder to South Australians about our collective responsibility to look out for one another's mental wellbeing, and this initiative is a simple and effective tool for doing so. On behalf of the government of South Australia, through the Malinauskas government, I thank the Hon. Laura Henderson for bringing this motion to the house.

The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON (17:56): I would like to thank honourable members for their contributions, but I would like to particularly thank the Hon. Ben Hood, the Hon. Jing Lee, the Hon. Sarah Game and the Hon. Tung Ngo for their contributions and support of this very important day.

Asking R U OK? is a simple question to ask but it prompts a very meaningful conversation that needs to be had around people's mental health. R U OK? is a question that should not just be asked on R U OK? Day but all year round. I thank members for their support of this motion and for the opportunity to continue to raise awareness around mental health and to change the stigma around mental health. Reach out to your friends, reach out to your loved ones, reach out to your colleagues and ask R U OK? With that, I commend the motion.

Motion carried.