Even when things seem at their darkest, no-one should ever have to feel they are alone.
Looking in from the outside, Australia seems like a pretty good place to live. Our major cities consistently rate amongst the world’s most liveable, with something to please everyone’s tastes. You can experience world-class cuisine, art, sporting events and music.
It doesn’t get any less appealing once you leave the bright lights behind, either. We have gorgeous beaches, stunning landscapes, and some of the world’s most fascinating wildlife—often literally in our backyards.
We’ve also got a better standard of living than 90% of the rest of the world, a robust democracy, and we are mostly free of the civil strife or war that other countries have faced even in their recent history.
It’s no wonder we’ve proudly adopted the originally ironic label of ‘The Lucky Country’. That’s why it might shock many of us when we find that, if we look a little deeper, there are lots of Aussies doing it tough.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in five (20%) Australians aged 16–85 will deal with some form of mental illness in any year. The most common issues are depressive, anxiety and substance use disorders.
Even more concerning are the statistics around suicide. Almost six Australians a day take their own life, with a further 30 attempting to do so. Suicide is the leading cause of death in people aged between 25–44 and the second leading cause of death for young people aged 15–24. To put that in perspective, Australians are more likely to die from suicide than skin cancer.
RUOK ambassadors (L–R): Steven Oliver, Commando Steve Willis, Kristina Lawerence, Ben Lee
Men are almost three times as likely to take their own life, but are the least likely to seek help. In fact, more than half of Australians struggling with mental illness won’t access treatment, whether through lack of resources or other reasons.
These are sobering statistics, and in a country that prides itself on being one of the best places in the world to live it leaves us asking what we can do to change this and ensure that those who do need help get it.
One area that we can work on is creating a nation where no-one has to feel isolated and alone, and where we strengthen our connections with one another. The RUOK? campaign was established to not only raise awareness of suicide prevention, but also to encourage us to reach out to those around us and ask the question, “Are you okay?”
It’s become a wonderful demonstration of what we can achieve when we work together, but it can only succeed if we are willing to go beyond the surface. When we ask someone how they are doing we have to be committed to listening to their answer. Equally, when we are asked how we are it can be easy to shrug it off with a pat answer out of embarrassment or not wanting to be a burden.
To put that in perspective, Australians are more likely to die from suicide than skin cancer.
Our culture values resilience and self-sufficiency. We pride ourselves on being tough and have a tendency to not want to complain. But we are also a country that believes in helping out those in need and being there for one another, and there is no shame in saying you need help.
These values resonate with what lies at the heart of the Christian message, which tells us that we are all responsible for the people around us, and asks us to love our neighbours as ourselves.
It is also built on the idea that no matter how bad things seem there is always hope, despite our circumstances or situation. It tells us that no-one should ever have to feel like there is no other way out, and that we need to work towards a world where no-one is left to do it on their own.
It’s that message that inspired the founders of The Salvation Army, William and Catherine Booth, to go into the slums of Victorian era London to help those who everyone else had written off as a lost cause, and inspires us today as we continue to work with the most vulnerable and marginalised.
Time and time again, Australians have shown that they believe in the concept of a fair go for everyone. From the richest to the poorest, from the most powerful to the least of us, no-one should ever feel alone and disconnected, or that there is no hope left.
The statistics mentioned earlier can seem daunting, and make us wonder what difference we can possibly make on our own. But campaigns like RUOK? show us that when we work together, and live, love and fight alongside others, we can make a difference in people’s lives.
When we are travelling well we can lift up those who are not, but we should also know that when we are struggling there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Being there for each other is the Australian way, and the real reason why this is a country worth living in.
You can find out more about the campaign at ruok.org.au.
If you are struggling, here are some numbers to call:
• Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
• MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78
• Beyondblue 1300 224 636
• Suicide helpline Victoria 1300 651 251
• Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
• Kids Helpline 1800 551 800