With September drawing to a close, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that it’s been a month inundated with mental health and suicide “awareness campaigns.”
It’s left me somewhat exhausted, but more importantly, also a little concerned.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand the pure intention behind all of this heartfelt activity – these are all initiatives that take energy, passion, commitment and drive from the tireless individuals behind them – but sometimes it can all feel a bit empty. It begs a bigger question. Awareness is all well and good, but how can it make a tangible difference?
Simply shining a spotlight on any given issue doesn’t create change. Sure, it’s the pivotal first step, but awareness is in and of itself passive. Likes, shares and selfies on social media just don’t cut it. Change comes about as a result of understanding what’s required and then taking positive action.
Let’s look at RUOK? Day for example. Their very noble vision is “a world where we’re all connected and are protected from suicide” and reminds people that a “conversation could save a life.”
This is no doubt a very solid starting point, but for me – and not only have I been deeply touched by the issues of mental health and suicide, I was also involved in a minor way in some of the early conversations around the creation of RUOK? – the troubling part is our general lack of preparedness for any kind of action beyond that.
When we ask someone if they are OK, are we really prepared to actively listen to the response and do something about it beyond just posing the question? I’m not sure many people are actually ready for – or would know how to handle – an honest answer.
As Glen Poole said in his recent and compelling article on male suicide for The Telegraph, “there is no point any of us posting suicide selfies telling men #ItsOkayToTalk, if we are not prepared to open our hearts, minds and ears and listen to whatever men say in response.”
In this case, we need to not only hold space for men to talk, but be able to give them the resources to find solutions to the very real and often complex issues they might be facing.
To illustrate this point further, let me highlight the work of James Greenshields. There are many other fine examples, but James comes immediately to mind as he is currently organising a series of live events across Australia that are action-orientated, and take a collaborative stance in identifying and providing community support and personalised solutions for men in need, as well as their families.
He’s directly addressing the issues men face and the devastating consequences for both themselves and those around them, and then connecting these men with resources in their own community so that they have an action plan to take them forward.
I’m delighted to be involved with #PutYourHandUp Live when it comes to Melbourne later this year.
By next September, I hope we are doing more to take mental health beyond simply raising awareness, and it’s a month of actively participating in a way that creates positive and lasting change.