Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, Dr Ruth Vine's opinion piece on Making mental health your most important conversation

An opinion piece from Dr Ruth Vine, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Mental Health, on R U OK? Day.

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General public

Today is R U OK? Day. It’s a time when we’re reminded to check in on those we love or those we worry about, to see how they are holding up in what are pretty abnormal and often stressful times.

Not everyone likes being asked how they’re doing. Some may even be baffled by the question! “Am I okay?” they ask. “Of course, I’m not okay!” I’m sure that is a reaction we can all relate to in one way or another over the past 18 months, when so much in our life has been impacted – school, work and holidays for example.

That is why it is more important than ever for us to continue having that crucial conversation around mental health, especially for young people who have experienced interrupted education and friendships. Growing up, and all that comes with it in our world can be confronting enough, let alone during a pandemic.

But we should also never lose sight of how well most have been coping in these very challenging times. Hats off to all those who have persisted with home schooling, kept up with friends and looked after each other. And a very big cheer to all the parents and carers who have juggled so many tasks but kept a positive outlook that we will get through the pandemic.

The conversation doesn’t end at a simple “Are you okay?” though. It is a stepping-off point, the start of open and honest dialogue.  A dialogue about what we might fear in the future and how well we are or are not coping in the present.

We humans are a resilient bunch, and have lived through major challenges of all kinds, including pandemics. We are able to adapt and overcome a whole range of potentially challenging situations.  But it is also easy to lose perspective and to focus on the downside. Checking in with others can bring back that balance, getting a better appreciation of progress that has been made, and inject hope for the future.

This is the second R U OK? Day since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The second year in which our lives have been disrupted, our social bonds weakened and, tragically, lives cut short. It is no wonder that people have become fatigued and mental health issues are on the rise. Looking back on the past 18 months, it makes absolute sense.

On this R U OK? Day, I want to acknowledge those who are not okay. Those who are feeling down and a bit lost in the stress and pain that this virus has caused. Sometimes, it is okay to not be okay. That is a very reasonable response to the situation we find ourselves in, but I truly believe it will get better. And it is hard sometimes to know how and when to have these important conversations. The Head to Health website has some great ideas, such as the #chatstarter initiative.

Even among the difficulty of the past 18 months, we can see how far we have come. Vaccination rates are skyrocketing and we can start to look towards our future again. We have much to look forward to, from the ‘normal’ family events like birthdays and holidays, to very special milestones and achievements. In short, so much life to live.

I want to highlight that there are a range of services that are available to assist those who may be struggling. It may be a friend or colleague, or even a client. Everyone needs a hand every now and then, and sometimes it might be easier to talk to someone we don’t know personally.

The Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Wellbeing Support Service is available anytime via telephone at 1800 512 348 or online at Anyone experiencing distress can get support through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Government’s digital mental health gateway, Head to Health.

And for those of us in Victoria, and NSW who are in lockdown right now, there are additional mental health services through the Head to Health pop up clinics. Headspace has been given additional funding to bolster its services directed to young people.

There are such extra resources out there for people doing it tough, they just need to get started on the journey. So please let R U OK? Day be a reminder to check in with those around us. And, if you are eligible, please get vaccinated. That feels like the most important thing right now to get us up and moving forward.


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