Why We Need R U OK Day


Yesterday was R U OK Day. A few people asked me if I was okay during the day. A fairly timely question when you consider so recently (yet so long ago) I really wasn’t okay. I appreciated being asked, appreciated people checking in. They do it regularly, whether it’s national suicide prevention day or not, and it’s a wonderful thing.

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep a close friend messaged me “R U OK Day: Valid movement or prone to superficial question?”

Without hesitation I responded “100% valid movement”.

They sent me screen shots of people on their facebook feed who felt otherwise and asked me to write about it. So that’s what I’m doing.

Many people seem to feel that R U OK day is just a superficial thing. A day we all go around asking people if they’re okay but not really caring about the answer. Not really caring about their mental health. A day that trivialises the important conversations we should all be having.

To the last point, I say: Fantastic!

These conversations shouldn’t be a big deal. They shouldn’t be the conversations we’re afraid to have, they should be the conversations we have all the time. It should be as easy to say “I am really struggling with my mental health today” as it is to say “My stomach is a bit upset”.

But it isn’t.

The mental health crisis is very very real. And we, as a society, seem completely unwilling to accept that all of our organs get sick. Not just our stomachs, or our lungs, or our hearts, but also our brains.

As Ruby Wax says in her Ted Talk about mental illness (and you’ll hear more about Ted Talks from me very soon) in reference to being institutionalised:

“I wasn’t sent a lot cards or flowers. If I had a broken leg I would have been inundated. But all I got was a couple of phone calls telling me to perk up. Perk up. Cause I didn’t think of that. The one thing you get with this illness, because this one comes with a package, you get a real sense of shame.”


And it’s true, you do.

I wrote a post for R U OK Day in 2012 titled My Husband is Suicidal and I published it under someone else’s name.

Because, God forbid, I actually admit that it’s me. That it’s my husband who almost ended his life.

I changed the details of our story to hide that it was me, but the point was the same. The moments were true. And if you look closely you’ll notice it’s written the way I write, it sounds like me. It shouldn’t be too hard to tell and, to be fair, I wasn’t particularly concerned with pretending it wasn’t.

Earlier this year when I published my post admitting I was not okay, I didn’t expect the reaction it garnered. I didn’t expect people to argue with me about being (or not being) grateful for people caring about my wellbeing. I didn’t expect people to interpret it as as an attack on them, and to take me down for not expressing myself as well as I could have. For trivializing their care.

But the worst part was showing up to work and realising everyone in my team read it. Everyone in my team was not okay, because I was not okay.

I couldn’t cope, and I shut down my facebook. I didn’t answer phone calls or messages. I put on a happy face at work and I pushed through. I faked it until I made it. And eventually, I felt better.

We shouldn’t have to feel shame for not being okay. These conversations should happen regularly, openly. Illness of the brain should be as easy to admit as saying you have a broken leg from falling down the stairs.

We need R U OK Day and we will continue to need it until people are as willing to have a conversation about their mental health as about their physical health. We need it to break down the stigma, to open conversations and to trivialise (yes, trivialise!) these conversations. To normalise them. To make them as common as admitting you have a headache, or a stomach upset, or any of the other physical symptoms we express to people every day without even blinking.

Until we are willing to admit we are not okay, we will continue to need R U OK Day.

What do you think? Do you believe we need R U OK Day? 

  • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    I did see a post in my FB feed where someone with a history of mental illness was clearly upset that no one had asked them “RUOK” – in this instance, RUOK day has created an expectation in them, and when that expectation wasn’t met, it made them feel worse…

    While the goals of RUOK day are admirable, and I’ll support anything that encourages awareness about mental health, I do see this as a problem… what happens to all those people who feel isolated enough already when no one asks you RUOK?

    It’s like a lonely person on Valentines Day who doesn’t receive a valentines day card or flowers – Valentine’s Day is great if people make a fuss of you, but awful if they don’t – it only makes your isolation and loneliness feel worse…

    So, I think I’m on the fence about RUOK day – I think everyday needs to be RUOK day – and everyone needs to look out for each other – but the “day” itself can create unrealistic expectations in those most vulnerable to isolation and depression – and for that reason alone, I’m not sure it should be continued.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      I hadn’t considered that perspective, thank you for pointing it out.

      I still think we need it, but can certainly see your point.

    • http://www.normalness.com/ NormalNess

      What I take from this point of view is perhaps a common
      failing of many public health campaigns. They are designed to target mass
      amounts of people, but fail to incorporate people on the fringes – maybe people who don’t use social media and don’t have a regular job or a job where no one would ask R U OK. And it is possibly people on the fringes in this instance who could need the most assistance.

  • http://www.themultitaskingmissus.com/ Gina Soldano-Herrle

    I think that we need R U Okay day. I agree that it’s very hard to tell someone you have an illness (that isn’t physical). People will question whether you’re just being dramatic. And if you can’t specify why you aren’t okay then they assume there is no reason and therefore you should be fine. I think R U Okay day and suicide prevention month are a step in the right direction. But, our society still needs many more steps before we are all okay.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      Absolutely agree