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R U OK? Day - The Power of Connecting

Penny Wright 12 Sep 2013

I've recently learned about a wonderful African concept: Ubuntu. It means 'I am what I am because of who we all are.' It speaks of being larger than an individual - being connected to others and part of a community. Ubuntu. Essentially, it means we can't be human by ourselves.

Today, being R U OK? Day, is a great opportunity to think about how we can acknowledge the truth of Ubuntu - by connecting with the people in our lives, checking if they're doing ok and starting a conversation if they're not doing so well. It is a way of saying to each other "you matter", "you are valued". And don't we all need to know that?

Together, today and every day, we can work towards protecting our communities from suicide - bringing it out of the shadows and into the light. A huge part of this is opening up dialogue, acknowledging that suicide occurs and allowing ourselves to talk about it.

This can be very challenging and painful, especially for those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Sensitivity and careful listening is crucial.

As the Australian Greens Spokesperson for Mental Health, I have had the privilege of meeting many passionate and caring people focused on suicide prevention in their communities - all around Australia.

In Albany it was the Men's Resource Centre, who approach men for "pit stop and wellness checks" in rural communities. In Tasmania, it was Rural Alive and Well (RAW), who describe themselves as "Lifeline on wheels", reaching out to people living on isolated properties to share a chat, a cup of tea and, in some cases, a shoulder to cry on.

In Orange, I learned about "Farm Link", training up people in the community who may come across others at risk, so they can start the necessary conversation and help them find the specialist help they need.

In the Riverland, it was people getting together to fund a CORES training program about mental health and wellbeing. And CORES itself was a community response to a spate of suicides in Tasmania some years ago.

In Mount Compass there is Karly Cousins - campaigning tirelessly to prevent suicide, and support devastated family members and friends left in its wake.

In an ostensibly "connected" world, it is still all too easy for many of us to feel adrift - alone and unconnected from other people. So let's activate Ubuntu. Let's celebrate our connectedness and our importance to each other.

Today - or any day - let's not underestimate the power we all have to change a life (or even save a life) by just reaching out. We can say those kind words, reach for that phone, or send that email, text message or letter.

Noble Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu put it beautifully when he said Ubuntu means "We belong in a bundle of life". On R U OK? Day we acknowledge the fact that we're in that bundle together.


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