Mildura police Superintendent Rebecca Olsen and R U OK? Conversation Convoy campaign director Katherine Newton yesterday at Langtree Mall. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By MITCH RODD

IT’S a question that seems obvious enough, yet isn’t asked nearly as much as it should be.

Just asking someone, ‘Are you okay?’ could be the conduit to opening up a conversation to begin the help-seeking process they need.

Making it easy to talk about any struggles one might have was the main message from ‘R U OK?’ team members when they visited Mildura yesterday. The national suicide prevention charity arrived in town as part of a six-week awareness-raising road trip around the country in the lead up to R U OK? Day on Thursday, September 13.

R U OK? is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to inspire and empower people to meaningfully connect with those around them, and support anyone struggling with life’s hardships.

The Conversation Convoy will visit 26 communities and cover nearly 15,000kms over six weeks, encouraging all Australians to ask the simple question and check in with one another.

Campaign director Katherine Newton said in the decade since R U OK? was formed, research showed more people were willing to be open and honest in tough conversations.

“Our late founder, Gavin Larkin, asked us to take the day to think of somebody else, even though it’s hard and it’s busy and we all have our challenges,” Ms Newton said.

“In the last 10 years we’re really noticing that more people are having the conversation, and more people are willing to listen to the answers, more people want to get involved and they want to be supportive.

“I think there is still the stigma of saying that we’re not okay for particular groups or particular industry, but it’s shifting.

“I think we really are on the cusp.”

Joining the R U OK? team at the Langtree Mall yesterday were local representatives from headspace, Ramsay Health, Mallee District Aboriginal Services, and Victoria Police, as well as Mildura Mayor Mark Eckel.

Ms Newton said the convoy was all about empowering people to start conversations with someone they may be worried about.

“We know that we all go through life’s challenges so it’s a question for every day, and that’s what we’re showing Australia on this journey. The theme for this year, being our 10th R U OK? Day is that every day is R U OK? Day,” she said.

“It’s so heartening to see people are willing to help others. That’s why we’re on the conversation convoy, because in every location we invite local support services down so whether that be a mental health service, a suicide prevention program, for example we have domestic violence services here today, hospital services here today, because the important thing is that if someone says they’re not okay, suggest seeking some professional support.

“They may not be ready for it yet, but absolutely suggest it because it will take time for them to get help, but if you’re with them along the way you can point them in that right direction.

“R U OK? is a conversation starter. You don’t have to say it in those exact words, but finding a genuinely meaningful reason to tell someone you’re worried about them.

“You don’t have to be an expert to ask the question. When you’re asking the question you obviously care about that person as a friend, a family member or a colleague, so trust that gut instinct to know that it’s much better to ask than not.”

According to 2018 research results, more than half of Australians (57 percent) in the last 12 months, wanted someone to ask them if they were okay and, encouragingly, Aussies are reporting asking the question more frequently, with 81 percent saying they had asked someone if they were okay more than once in the past 12 months.

However, the results revealed there is still work to do, with 52 percent of us having thought about asking someone if they were okay, at least once, but not following through.

Conversation tips and crisis numbers can be found online at ruok.org.au.

The R U OK? Conversation Convoy will continue making its way around the country, visiting Murray Bridge and Alice Springs. The tour will culminate in Sydney on R U OK? Day.