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R U OK? The idea that sparked a mental health revolution

- September 10, 2020 4 MIN READ
RUOK
Updated September 10 2020

Gavin Larkin believed conversation could change a life. Despite losing his own life to an aggressive form of lymphoma in 2011, Larkin’s belief that a simple conversation could be the difference between life and death launched a crusade that has swept Australia.

As the founder of R U OK? Larkin initiated a campaign that championed mental health and urged everyday Australians to step up, speak up and step in, if they felt someone’s mental health was in jeopardy. Larkin’s call to action began almost a decade after his father’s suicide.  At the time he was struggling with his own mental health issues, despite seeming to have it all – successful career, beautiful wife, great family…

“I should have been feeling on top of the world and I felt empty, I felt black, and it really scared me and I started to worry that I might do what my father did,” he told Australian Story.

Soon after, the idea for R U OK Day was born and Larkin used his connections to enlist a slew of high profile celebs to champion his cause. Shortly after launching R U OK? Larkin received his diagnosis but didn’t let that dampen his enthusiasm for the cause.

TRIGGER WARNING: This video talks about suicidal ideation

“The message of R U OK? Day is ‘stop a little problem from turning into a big one, because that’s your best chance of avoiding the ultimate disaster’.” Larkin told Australian Story just weeks before his death in 2011.

“Could R U OK? and that question being asked by the right person at the right time have saved my father?” he pondered.

In the eight years since Larkin’s death, R U OK Day has grown to become a national day of action for suicide prevention. Almost 80 per cent of Australians know of RUOK Day and a quarter of them have participated.

Today Larkin’s widow, Maryanne continues to champion the cause. Indeed the whole Larkin family have accepted the challenge set by Gavin that R U OK continue on after his death.

“This is the house that lives and breathes R U OK? and it’s incredible to see the community that R U OK? has built around us,” his daughter, Josie, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Watch the video above to hear more about why celebrities are supporting R U OK? Day

That the family continues to forge a way forward for the well-being of others is even more impressive when you consider the personal tragedy they have endured.

Just weeks after Larkin was diagnosed with lymphoma, his son Gus was discovered to have an incurable brain tumour. After enduring numerous rounds of chemo and treatment Gus passed away too.

Whilst it would have been easy to crumble under the emotional strain, Mary Ann and her two surviving children Josie and Van continue to champion the movement.

“I dream of a world where everybody has at least one person in their life that is looking out for them. Luckily I’ve had an amazing number of people around me – friends and family included, that have helped keep me afloat and believe me, it’s been my saviour.”

Whether it’s in the workplace, at school or at home, Larkin’s national campaign has struck a chord.  The organisation has developed a number of resources for people that are struggling with life and for those around them to help notice the warning signs of someone in crisis.

The organisation urges everyone to follow these four conversation steps.

Ask R U OK?

Listen

Encourage Action

Check in.

By making time for those around you, can help people feel more connected and increase their sense of belonging.

While asking RUOK is a good first step, This R U OK Day are encouraged to learn what to say if someone in their life says they aren’t doing OK.

It assist everyday Aussies to have what can be challenging conversations, the organisation has developed an interactive conversation roleplay video. The video helps build the confidence and skills of Australians so they can navigate a conversation with someone in their life who might be struggling.

This year R U OK?Day coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day which will focus further attention on the role that each of us can play in suicide prevention efforts.

R U OK? CEO, Katherine Newton says 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone and circumstances have made it even more important for us all to stay connected.

“In the words of our late founder, Gavin Larkin, R U OK?Day is a day to think about someone other than yourself and, if you are well and able, be willing to support those around you who might be struggling,” said Newton. “But we also acknowledge that sometimes you might feel a little uncomfortable or awkward if someone says they’re not okay.

“That’s an understandable reaction and it’s why this year we’re reminding Australians there’s more to say after R U OK? and encouraging them to learn what to say next,” said Newton. “It’s important we know how to keep the conversation going because a conversation really can change a life.”

RUOK Day takes place on September 10.  If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or mental health issues please seek help. Call Lifeline 131141. MensLineAustralia 1300 78 99 78.  Young People aged 12-25 seeking help can call Headspace 1800 650 890.

There’s more to say after R U OK?’ Learn what to say next at www.ruok.org.au

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