Content warning: This article contains reference to suicide. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.

 

You don’t need to be an expert to check up on your mob’s mental health; that’s the message of R U OK’s new First Nations suicide prevention campaign.

Ahead of R U OK Day on September 9, the Stronger Together campaign is encouraging First Nations people to “ask your mob, your way, R U OK?” and encourages people to offer support to friends, family and colleagues who might be struggling.

Dr Vanessa Lee-Ah Mat is Chair of the R U OK? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group and said conversations need to start early, before little problems become big problems.

“I don’t know any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person that doesn’t know someone who’s either taken their life by suicide or has that lived experience themselves,” she said.

“It’s not acceptable that young people are standing there and say, ‘You know what, I’ve lost hope.’

“And whether you’re Indigenous or not, it’s something that we, as a society, should be standing together and saying, ‘let’s pull each other out, let’s share what works, let’s work together.’”

Stronger Together features a series of videos of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people sharing how they ask their mob if they’re okay.

In one video, Wakka Wakka and South Sea Islander man Kevin Yow Yeh speaks about the importance of Aboriginal people connecting with mob culturally.

“As Blackfullas we have our own special way of knowing, being, and doing, and that’s why when we ask are you okay, we’ve got to do it in our way,” he said.

R U OK’s Stronger Together campaign encourages mob to check in with each other. Photo via R U OK.

Non-verbal communication is also an important part of conversations between Aboriginal people; Dr Lee-Ah Mat said it can be a powerful tool for knowing when mob need support.

“Often when Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander persons say, ‘which way’, ‘how you going’, or gives a nod of the head or a gesture with the hand asking someone ‘are you okay?’ — they’re looking around for the change in the voice, and looking at people’s eyes to see whether their happiness glow has decreased or increased,” Dr Lee-Ah Mat said.

“If it’s decreased you know something is definitely wrong.”

R U OK is currently working on translating the campaign into language to make it as accessible as possible.

“We’ve started engaging with different Elders and key language speakers in community, because we need to get permission, and we need to make sure the wording is correct,” said Dr Lee-Ah Mat.

“Asking in your language in your way, asking mob ‘are you okay?’ is really important, because no two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are the same.”

Dr Lee-Ah Mat said Aboriginal people and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations are the best frontline supports to fight against suicide and improve mental health.

“Aboriginal community-controlled health services are culturally safe services, with social and emotional wellbeing practices in place. And people there know their community, they know what’s going on.

“We know that putting Aboriginal health into Aboriginal hands works.”

Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara and Pertame man Steven Satour is the Stronger Together campaign manager and said it’s about recognising that anyone can support their mob through hard times.

“The Stronger Together campaign reinforces the power of yarning and ‘I ask my mob, in my way, are you okay?’ is about showing the many ways we can ask, listen, encourage, and check in with our mob,” he said.

“The most important thing for mob to remember is that you don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be yourself and ask, in your own way, so you look after your mob.”

The Stronger Together suicide prevention community resources are available for free on the R U OK website.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:

 

By Sarah Smit