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R U OK? Day

“What I wish I'd known about mental health when I was younger"

September 9, 2021
In many ways, 2021 has proven just as challenging as 2020 for a lot of Aussies. Lockdown is likely the most sustained stress many of us are going to face in our lifetimes, with more of us than ever needing help when it comes to our mental health.
Today marks R U OK? Day, an opportunity to meaningfully connect with those around you who may be struggling. You don't need to be an expert to reach out - just a good friend and a great listener.
As R U OK? ambassador Emilie Emond details in her interview with Pinterest below, help is always at hand, and a simple conversation might just change a life. Here, she reveals what she wishes she knew about mental health when she was younger, and how to approach someone you’re concerned about.

Can you tell us why you decided to become an R U OK? ambassador?

I lost my dad to suicide 15 years ago and it was a terribly isolating period, mainly because there is such shame and stigma associated with suicide. I wanted to do something that would have a direct impact in normalising the conversation around mental health and suicide prevention, and felt compelled to join R U OK? as an ambassador because of its positive message and outlook.

What's the best way to start a conversation with a friend you're concerned about?

The best way to start a conversation is to be authentic, and to do and say what feels right to you and your friendship. For example, if you feel more comfortable initiating the conversation over text or DM, because this is how you would normally communicate with your friend, it's perfectly fine to do so. The wording you use is important. For instance, if there is something in particular that you have noticed in your friend's behaviour, make sure to point it out. This will make it easier for your friend to respond, knowing you are genuinely concerned and care about them.

What if that friend is you - what's the best way to start that conversation?

Everyone is different, but in my case the best way to start that conversation is to work it into a friendly chat, and to pinpoint something of concern. For example this could sound like "I noticed you haven't responded to my last message, how are you coping with the new project at work?" This instantly makes me feel like my friend is coming from a place of care and trust, meaning I'm more likely to open up and confide in them. If the question is too generic ie. "How's everything?", I might be more inclined to simply brush it off and answer "everything's fine", when in reality it might not be. For more tips on how to start a conversation, visit www.ruok.org.au

What are your top tips for making lockdown easier?

Lockdown is challenging and testing for everyone. I feel extremely fortunate to be in a situation where I am still employed, but like a lot of parents, working full time and homeschooling does take its toll. Lately I have been trying to set time aside everyday - even if it's just 5 minutes - so I can go outside and get some fresh air in between 2 video calls or 2 homeschooling lessons. It's not always possible, but I find that even a couple of minutes has a beneficial effect on my mood, and I find myself in a better headspace. My other tip is to practice gratitude. I know this sounds terribly cliche, but I do make a conscious effort to find things to be smiling about. Personally, if there is a silver lining to lockdown, it's that homeschooling has allowed me to spend more time with my daughter than would have ever been possible. Whilst some of those moments can be tense or stressful (is this how they teach maths now, really? Help!), there's also plenty of beautiful, funny and endearing moments.

What advice do you wish you had received when you were younger in regards to mental health?

I wish I would have been told that mental health is just as important as physical health. Some would argue it's even more important, because mental health plays such a vital role in our ability to maintain good physical health. With that in mind, I wish things would have been easier with regards to finding a safe space to approach and discuss mental health. There is still a long way to go, but I can honestly say that things are starting to change for the better.

What else do you want young people to know about mental health?

I would love for young people to know that mental health is paramount, and to understand that just like physical health, we all go through periods in life where our mental wellbeing can suffer. The most important thing to realise is that this is perfectly normal, and as such it's also normal to seek help whenever we need it. I would also love for young people to know that they have the power to make a difference simply by creating meaningful connections with those around them, and by learning how to spot the signs that someone they know is not being their usual self and might be struggling with life. If you notice something's not quite right, don't hesitate to reach out. After all, a simple conversation could change a life.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help now, call triple zero (000). You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.