R U OK? Day non-executive director Graeme Cowan shares his tips and strategies for starting the mental health conversation as the initiative marks its 10th anniversary.
Today (12 September) marks the 10th annual R U OK? Day, a national suicide prevention day of action that aims to raise awareness on depression, anxiety and wider mental health issues.
Speaking to The Adviser’s sister title Wellness Daily, the non-executive director of R U OK? Day, Graeme Cowan, said that the awareness of the day was “extraordinary” and had been growing exponentially since its launch 10 years ago, but that it has since grown to be a year-round movement rather than just a 24-hour push to raise awareness.
“We’ll always have a day because that provides a sense of focus and momentum,” Mr Cowan told The Wellness Daily Show podcast, “but really, we’re about R U OK? 365 [days a year].”
The theme for this year’s R U OK? Day is “Trust the Signs, Trust your Gut & Ask: R U OK?”
Mr Cowan explained: “It really stems around each of us knowing the people around us probably better than anything else. And so, it is really just encouraging people 365 days of the year to be hyper alert around changes that we see in those around us. That’s changes in behaviour, changes in mood, changes in circumstances. It could be people going through a tough time, losing a parent, going through divorce or whatever. And so, that is the real focus, to really try and encourage people to just be aware of what’s happening in other people’s lives.”
He continued: “We’re not in the business of [asking] the everyday person to diagnose a clinical illness, but all we’re asking is to look out for changes. Of course, people can have an ‘off’ day… but if things happen, two or three days in a row that are abnormal, [that is something to look for].
“If they’re normally really reliable at getting reports or projects in on time and suddenly they’re not, [it’s about] asking R U OK? If they normally love going to the footy, or playing golf, but suddenly they’re not turning up there... it’s just being aware of those signs,” he said.
Recognising the signs
The initiative comes amid R U OK?’s 2019 national omnibus survey, which revealed that approximately two-thirds of people (63 per cent) are not confident they know the signs that someone might be struggling with life.
Further, 41 per cent hadn’t asked someone if they were OK because they weren’t sure they knew the signs.
However, nearly half (49 per cent) said they believe they’d be more confident starting a conversation if they knew the signs.
According to R U OK? Day, signs to look out for include people seeming confused, irrational, moody or unable to switch off, and sudden changes to behaviour, including recklessness or loss of interest in hobbies.
Mr Cowan suggested that, when asking after someone’s mental health, it is best done in a private place outside of the office environment.
He added that after asking the question, the second step is “really listening without judgment and also realizing that the first thing offered is very rarely the full answer”.
“So, just keep on asking questions, open-ended questions, because as you ask questions, people feel understood. And when they feel understood, that’s when we’re in a great position to be able to influence them,” he suggested.
Should someone admit that they are struggling, the non-executive director advised that the next step would be to encourage them to take action, such as by advising they visit their doctor, call a helpline or employee assistance program and then check back in with that person three or four days later to ensure they took action.
“That’s the four steps we talk about: ALEC. A is for ask. L is for listen without judgment. E is for encourage action. C is for check in,” he said.
Mr Cowan concluded: “It’s about providing support, showing you care, and just asking that question [Are you OK?]. And that can make the biggest difference, you know? It doesn’t matter whether it’s a diagnosable mental illness or just someone experiencing distress because of something going on in their life. When people do reach out, it makes a big difference,” he told The Wellness Daily Show.
Get Broker Fit event
Several industry bodies, lenders and brokerages are holding R U OK? Day events today, including the FBAA’s health and wellbeing workshop, Get Broker Fit in Sydney, partnered by Suncorp in association with A Higher Branch Success Academy, R U OK? Day and Beyond Blue.
FBAA managing director Peter White said the partnership builds on work he commenced in 2016 as an industry ambassador for the awareness and acceptance of anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
“We are honoured to partner with Suncorp for these wellness workshops, which are the beginning of a longer relationship between the FBAA and Suncorp to further support finance and mortgage brokers with their mental health and wellness – it’s such an important social issue,” he said.
Suncorp national partnerships manager Renee Blethyn added: “Providing brokers with the tools and resources they need to manage their own health and resilience more effectively is essential.
“The past 12 to 18 months have been particularly challenging for brokers – both on a personal and professional level – as they have had to navigate change and a highly competitive lending environment.”
She added: “While many events focus on the craft of being a mortgage broker, we know that taking time out to think about your own health and wellbeing, and learning how to better manage stress levels, is critical and often neglected.”
Find out more about R U OK? Day in The Wellness Daily Show podcast with Graeme Cowan.
Annie Kane is the editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business.
As well as writing about the Australian broking industry, the mortgage market, financial regulation, fintechs and the wider lending landscape – Annie is also the host of the Elite Broker and In Focus podcasts and The Adviser Live webcasts.
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