“R U OK?” A conversation that could change a life

By Gabrielle Stannus

This Thursday 10 September is national R U OK?Day. We check in with an R U OK? Community Ambassador to find out how a conversation could change a life.

A glazier by trade, Mitch McPherson is what many people would describe as an “affable bloke”. Mitch is the type of guy who growing up enjoyed spending time with his family and mates, having a beer on the weekend and playing footy. However, in his twenties Mitch experienced a devastating loss that changed not only his outlook on life, but also his career.

In 2013, Mitch lost his younger brother Ty to suicide. As Mitch tried to come to terms with his loss, he started to share his personal story hoping to encourage others to speak up and seek help when they have issues or go through difficult times. Mitch then founded SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY to promote positive mental health and prevent suicide by normalising conversations about mental health. Through its partnership with Relationships Australia Tasmania, Mitch’s charity now has a staff of ten running programs and events in schools, sporting clubs and workplaces across Tasmania.

R U OK?Day – Thursday 10 September 2020
For Mitch, becoming an R U OK?Day Community Ambassador was a natural extension of the work he carries out with SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY. R U OK?Day is a national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that any day is the day to ask, “Are you OK?” and support those struggling with life. “I love how simple their message is, but also how important it is,” Mitch says.

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, Mitch says that now more than ever is the time to check on how are our family, friends and colleagues are faring. Mitch has experienced his own set of challenges during this crisis. He became a first-time father just as his home state Tasmania was entering lockdown, and shortly after had knee surgery which he says went ‘pear-shaped’. “We had a brand-new baby and I could not walk,” Mitch says.

“Be patient with each other, because everyone is going to crawl out of COVID at a different pace,” explains Mitch, “As an employer or as a staff member, it is important that we do not jump to conclusions and we be more empathetic and patient with our team and the people that we care about. They are dealing with things that we are probably not dealing with ourselves. It is important to be patient and use positive language rather than judging and making people feel worse about how they might already be feeling.”

Look out for the one percenters
“I grew up playing footy and when I played footy, my coach would always tell us to tackle and shepherd and block for your teammates, calling these ‘one percenters’. For me now, one percenters means looking out for those around you who are just one percent off their game,” Mitch explains, “If someone walks into your office and they just look one percent off their game and you do not ask them R U OK? or how they are travelling, and no-one asks them for that day, the next day they might be at five percent, and the day after that they might be at 20 and then so on.”

“Put your radar out and be on the lookout for those around you who are just off their game slightly,” Mitch encourages, “Do not be afraid to sit down with them or send them a text or grab them after work or school and say, “Hey, is everything all right? I noticed that you were not yourself today. You were late to work. I have noticed over the last couple of weeks, things have not been quite one hundred percent. I just wanted to let you know that I am here for you to have a chat.”

Mitch says it can be enough just to simply be with that person and sit in their moment of vulnerability and know that that is helping them to get some professional support.

“Look out for those around you, do an act of kindness and be there, be a set of ears for someone that you care about,” concludes Mitch.

How to ask?
R U OK? has developed four conversation steps to give you the skills and confidence to navigate a conversation with someone you are worried about:

1. Ask
2. Listen
3. Encourage action
4. Check in

For more information, visit the R U OK? website.

Need more help?
If you are facing pressures that you find difficult to cope with, you may wish to speak to someone about your problems. R U OK? provide a list of help lines, websites and mental health information services to which you can refer to for more information and assistance.

If you or a loved one are experiencing a personal crisis or thinking about suicide, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Further reading:
Behind the Smile: A Story of Life After Loss by Mitch McPherson. Mitch tells the story of his brother’s life and death to help others recognise warning signs that there may be a struggle behind someone’s smile.