R U OK? Community connections and conversations that could save a life
R U OK Day (Thursday 10th September, 2020) holds a lot of personal significance for me. Like many of you, I have had the privilege of journeying with those who wrestle with mental health challenges as they have trusted me with their story. Anxiety has also held an all too familiar presence in my own household. If I have learnt anything personally and professionally regarding mental health challenges, it’s that depression and anxiety (amongst other mental health struggles) do not discriminate and very often they hit the most “unlikely” of people.
The child who is incredibly intelligent, gifted and confident, having meltdowns and panicking getting ready to go to school every day.
The teenager who is well-liked by their peers and who has a wide social circle, withdrawing from their social world for weeks, not wanting to hang out with their friends or do what they usually love doing.
The work colleague who is bright, positive, confident and hard-working, having a lot of sick days and arriving at work late over a period of weeks.
The dad/mum who is usually on top of juggling work and home life responsibilities and quite involved in their social circle, not returning messages or calls from their friends for weeks.
Mental Health struggles can sometimes feel as though they have come out of the blue and the change is sudden. This might be triggered by a specific event or trauma. However, in my experience a lot of the time a person’s mental health decline is a slow, downward spiral. This subtle decline is where a person’s sense of self-confidence and self-worth begins to slowly slip away to the point where it becomes so “normal” to feel so low or so anxious that one forgets what it was like to ever feel happy or at peace. Because of this, it’s sometimes difficult for the individual to identify something has changed as this new normal has crept in and taken over slowly, quietly, subtly. Hence the importance of noticing if someone we know doesn’t seem quite themselves and asking, “R U OK?”.
This year has been incredibly challenging for our entire community and world which is why the role of community to check in on each other is more important than ever. We have all experienced a collective trauma (to varying degrees) as our physical health, our connections and relationships with others and our financial positions (to name a few) have been threatened. Our sense of normal, the “stuff” that fills our lives that we have depended upon for security has been altered, and as COVID-19 continues to threaten our once “normal lives”, we continue to anticipate an ongoing threat that might be “just around the corner”.
As much as we wish we had the power just to wave a magic wand and wish this year away, 2020 has highlighted the fragility of life and the essence of being human: we have limits and in so many ways we have very little control over our external circumstances.
As someone who has struggled with anxiety myself, part of my journey has involved learning to accept the things I can’t control (other people’s feelings, personal criticism, illness, my child’s neurological needs etc), and instead spend more energy focusing on the things that I can control. This strategy has played a huge part in helping me regain my sense of confidence and calm.
This year, in all we have lost and all that continues to threaten our sense of normal and sense of control, the one thing COVID-19 cannot take away from us is each other. The community might look a little different as we socially distance and have smaller gatherings, but true community runs far deeper than physical connection.
Community is sending a text message regularly to check in on a friend.
Community is checking in on our elderly neighbour to see how they are.
Community is giving a warm smile to the person serving us behind the screen at Woolies and asking how their day is going.
Community is noticing when a particular friend or colleague just hasn’t seemed themselves and finding the courage to ask “R U OK?”. (AND sticking with them if they say, “No. I’m really not.”)
We might have very little control over lots of things, including this COVID- craziness. However, let’s not forget that we DO have control, as well as a social responsibility to look out for one another. Let’s be kind and notice one another and if something doesn’t seem right, let’s be courageous and ask, “RU OK?”. It’s a question that could very well save a life…
As the saying goes in our Mother Duck Family- It truly does take a community!
*Note- this advice should not replace professional or medical advice. Should you be concerned for your mental/physical wellbeing (or that of someone else), please seek professional advice. The following links may be helpful: