R U OK? Day shines light on mental health

While the national day for asking R U OK? has rolled by for another year, there’s still no better time to be checking in with those around you — sometimes, the simple act of checking in with a friend, relative or community member is enough to change a life.

Shop fronts around Maryborough were decked out in yellow this week in support of R U OK? Day — a campaign designed to encourage all Australians to ask someone in their life how they are doing and support them if they’re struggling — which took place yesterday on September 10.

Along with its usual campaign, this year’s R U OK? Day also promoted the message “there’s more to say after R U OK?’, focusing on building confidence and increasing skills for people so they know how to navigate a conversation with some- one in their life who might be struggling.

Someone who knows the importance of a question as simple as R U OK? is Maryborough coun- sellor Carole Payton who has been working as a mental health clinician for 20 years.

Ms Payton said sometimes it can be enough to simply say ‘hi’ to someone you think may be struggling, and she had planned to check in with a few people herself on September 10.

“R U OK? Day is a great opportunity for people to start that conversation and there are a lot of resources out there to help,” she said.

“Some people feel like they’re a burden and don’t want to reach out so I think it’s really important for those of us who have the capacity, to just say hi. For some people that’s enough, just to know that someone’s thinking about them.

“The idea of R U OK? is something I do with my clients, if I haven’t had contact with someone for quite a long time I’ll give them a call and ask if they’re OK. I know there are workplaces I’m involved with who also use this day to check in with staff.”

Asking R U OK? is particularly important this year as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has separated families, friends and even colleagues and created social isolation for many.

Living in Maryborough for the past three years and running her private practice C Payton Counselling since November 2019 has given Ms Payton a snapshot of the local landscape pre and post COVID- 19.

“I have gotten some first-time clients during the pandemic but also people who I stopped working with a while ago are calling back because they’re struggling,” she said.

“There’s a really lowered mood we’re all experiencing at the moment so if you’ve already got mental health issues and then you’ve got this pandemic on top of it, it can worsen things. Other people may not quite understand why they’re feeling the way they are.”

The pandemic has put a stop to most face-to-face appointments but Ms Payton said there’s a silver lining as the use of telehealth services has allowed some clients to open up more than they may have in the past.

“The pandemic in some ways has given people more options when it comes to counselling because they can reach out through telehealth to any part of Victoria and I’ve found my clients are opening up more through it,” she said.

“The majority of my work, even clients who I was seeing face-to-face previously, have opted for the phone sessions.

“There’s the comfort of being at home and some issues people prefer not to have that face-to-face interaction for because it can be a bit uncomfortable when you’ve got a counsellor looking at you.

“I’ve also found that during this pandemic, it’s actually given people time to explore a lot of their own mental health issues. They’re calling up a counsellor and saying ‘I’ve got memories of past issues which I’m now struggling with, and I actually have some time now to work through that’.”

On the other side of the coin, Ms Payton said missing that vital social interaction is having an impact on everyone.

“Social isolation is a massive issue. As mental health workers we’re constantly promoting social connection but now all of a sudden that’s not available to a lot of people,” she said.

“I’m finding especially the older population who may have relied on having a face-to-face session with a counsellor once a week, that’s suddenly been taken away from them. Some of them don’t feel that comfortable talking over the phone because some people do prefer the face-to-face, and they’re missing those catch ups whether it’s with a counsellor, friends for coffee or family, that’s all stopped.

“I’m actually also working with a lot of students at the moment, particularly from the Loddon area.

“They were coasting and doing OK, but all of a sudden with this isolation they’re finding they’re at home more. If getting out of the home and being with their peers at school was a break for them, they’re now isolated at home and that can bring up more issues.”

Ms Payton encouraged everyone to check in with those around them and, above all, to simply be kind.

“Sometimes it is OK to not be OK, it’s just a matter of knowing what to do about those times that you’re not OK,” she said.

“Look after each other and be kind, you never know what journey someone’s on.”

Resources to ask how someone R U OK? can be found at www.ruok.

If you or someone you know is struggling you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

You can also contact Beyond Blue’s free Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, available 24/7 at coronavirus.beyond or 1800 512 348.

In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000).