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If, on September 11, you have lots of people asking “are you okay?” don’t be concerned. In fact, it might pay to ask them the same question. It could even open up a dialogue that may save a life. That’s because September 11 is the annual “R U OK? Day”. It’s a time to ask those in your life if they’re okay – and really listen to their response.

Many times we’ll ask someone how they’re doing with the aim of telling them what you’re up to, never listening to how they are. Unfortunately that person might be trying to tell you something. Something like “I’m sad and I don’t know why” or, “I need help”.Founded by Gavin Larkin, R U OK is a not-for-profit organisation committed to opening dialogues with a view to eradicating suicide. This is an ideal inspired by the work of Dr Thomas Joiner, who lost his father to suicide, and researched the torturous question: why?

Dr Joiner postulated that there are three ideologies at work in those prone to suicide. They think they’re a burden to others, they think they can withstand a high degree of pain and they don’t feel connected to others. Asking someone “are you okay?” attempts to overcome the last.Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 45 and women under 35 – six Australians take their own lives every day, devastating their family and friends and the wider community. In any year, it’s thought that one million Australians will experience depression, and over half of these people will also experience anxiety. Simply by asking someone how they are and paying attention to their response might be all the help they need.

R U OK’s website offers several ways you can initiate a dialogue with someone you might be concerned about. It outlines how to prepare yourself, how to talk to someone, and how to deal with dismissal or denial – or the fact that someone does actually need help from a professional.

You can make a donation to R U OK, so that they can continue their amazing work, expand their teams and reach, and develop tools and kits to inspire meaningful conversations. They also offer a range of items for purchase; why not invite a friend to your home for a chat over a cup of R U OK tea, or R U OK-shaped cookies? Show your support with an R U OK banner or bumper sticker, and spread the word with lapel pins and wrist bands, water bottles and pens. You can host an R U OK event to raise funds and or go the whole hog and purchase a fundraising kit with pens, pins, phone cases and metal keyrings.

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