It's R U OK? Day today. It was R U OK? Day last year. It was R U OK? Day the year before that. People are still depressed.
It's a lovely sentiment, reaching out to your friends and loved ones to make sure they're doing okay, but as others have said, it's not enough to have one day a year where we actively care about mental health.
We need to be consistent and we need to be doing more.
The day itself is constantly marked with yellow ribbons and smiley-face cupcakes in hotel lobbies, but notably absent is any actual progress on mental health in Australia.
To prove that - one year before the first R U OK? Day in 2008, intentional self-harm was the 14th leading cause of death among Australians.
In 2019, it was the 13th. We're more aware of mental health, sure, but all we seem to be doing is paying lip service to a wider problem.
Over the last years in regional Australia, young people have been calling for more support, showing that the conversations are getting through.
However, rather than install trained therapists in schools and giving that money to headspace, Australia's response was to look at giving $247 million to the chaplaincy program.
As Senator Jacqui Lambie noted at the time, "Chaplains do a good job, but chaplains aren't trained psychologists, and our kids need help from mental health professionals."
At a recent forum, young people across Australia identified cost as the number one inhibitor preventing them from accessing mental health support services.
A Mental Health Care Plan offers subsidies for six sessions a year, with four more available with a check-up.
Less than one appointment a month is not enough to make meaningful progress, leaving aside the fact that the subsidies are far from comprehensive so people on low incomes can still be financially inhibited from getting the help they need.
R U OK? Day places emphasis that a conversation can be life-saving, as mental health services face ever-increasing demand. That's a huge amount of pressure to put on a friend or a family member who's not equipped to handle complex mental health issues.
If we're really going to take mental health seriously in Australia, it's time to stop putting that responsibility solely on brunches and online yoga.
We need to be funding support services, investing in training and research, and we need to be addressing the underlying causes. Programs like R U OK? Day can and should be part of that approach, but it needs to be backed up by long-term structural change.
Until we do that, Australia is not going to be OK.
If you or someone you know needs help contact;
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Griffith Suicide Prevention and Suicide Support Group on 1300 133 911
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