The ABS reports that one in five Australians – more than 4.2 million people – experienced mental disorders that lasted longer than 12 months.
So will asking “are you okay?” really help the millions of Australians grappling with mental health woes that just won’t go away? Probably not.
That’s why we need to start expanding the way we ask about, talk about and listen to each others’ experiences with mental illness.
It’s not enough to drop the question “are you okay” during morning office small talk, then just get on with your day. It's not enough to repost something on Instagram.
We need to ask with genuine care and be ready and willing to listen if someone does decide to open up.
What’s more, we need to be ready to speak honestly about our own mental struggles to build an environment (be it at work, within social circles or for our own families) that allows or even encourages people to speak openly about mental health.
The last decade has seen Australian society take huge strides when it comes to acknowledging the realities of mental illness and how it can affect our daily lives.
We have access to more resources and support channels than ever before and workplaces around the nation now promote mental health days and employee assistant programs designed to improve mental wellbeing.
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But most of us are still afraid of the stigma that comes with actually speaking about using these resources, needing this support or taking a mental health day.
That’s why it’s not enough to just ask if your co-worker or mate is okay.
We also need to be ready to admit when we’re not okay, to share our own stories and finally be honest with one another about our mental health.
After all, inspirational posts on Instagram will only get us so far. It’s time for something a little more real.
If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website.