How to ask ‘R U OK?’

We caught up with CEO of the Mental Health Coordinating Council, Carmel Tebbutt, ahead of RU OK?Day (Thursday, 10 September).

Carmel Tebbutt is perhaps best known for being the first woman to hold the position of Deputy Premier of New South Wales.

The Sydney Catholic Schools’ alumni and former NSW Minister for Education has since retired from politics and now uses her knowledge of how government works to support people on their mental health recovery journeys.

She does this through her role as the chief executive officer of the Mental Health Coordinating Council (MHCC), the peak body representing the community health sector in NSW.

MHCC advocates for policy development and legislative reform in the sector.

“We need to remain focused on the things we can do and that’s why RU OK?Day is so important,” Ms Tebbutt said with reference to our national day of action.

RU OK?Day is dedicated to reminding everyone that every day is the day to ask, “Are you OK?” and support those struggling with life’s ups and downs.

Sydney Catholic Schools’ alumni and CEO of the Mental Health Coordinating Council, Carmel Tebbutt.

“Every day is a day to ask, ‘Are you okay?’” according to Carmel Tebbutt.

Ms Tebbutt said 45 per cent of people in their lifetime will experience a mental health condition, and one in five Australians experience mental illness in any one year.

The coronavirus pandemic and self-isolation is creating new mental health and wellbeing challenges.

“RU OK?Day opens up permission to have those conversations,” Ms Tebbutt said.

“But those conversations should happen every day if you feel a friend or a colleague is not coping.

“Pick a time when you have the time and capacity to listen.

“It’s not like there is any right way to do it. I’d say, ‘How are you? Are you okay? I’ve noticed you’re a bit down. Do you want to talk?’

“I think the most important thing is letting them know you’re there to listen. If people don’t want to talk, that’s fine as well. It may open up a conversation at a later point.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of just listening and giving them an opportunity to unload.”

She stressed it was important to understand that you can’t “fix” someone’s problems, and to encourage the person to seek professional help to overcome any feelings of helplessness.

“Encourage them to contact Lifeline or call Lifeline yourself, or one of the other available services,” Ms Tebbutt said.

“I was educated in the Catholic school system and I had some great teachers who instilled in us that important social justice tradition and notions of tolerance, respect and understanding.

“I think those values underpin having these kinds of conversations.”

She reminded students that it is okay not knowing what you want to do with your life.

“When I was in Year 11 and 12 thinking about my career, I wasn’t thinking about politics; that came later in life. I tried a few different things first,” Ms Tebbutt said.

Ms Tebbutt attended Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Primary School in Caringbah, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic College Burraneer, and De La Salle Catholic College Cronulla.

After high school, she began studying a science degree but then left university to join the workforce. She later completed an economics degree and, as part of that, industrial relations.

“Find your passion, find what you really care about – when you do that, you’ll find your path in life,” Ms Tebbutt advised.

Research shows:

  • 1 in 7 young people aged 4 to 17 years will experience a mental health condition in any given year
  • 1 in 10 young people aged 12 to 17 years old will self-harm
  • 1 in 13 young people aged 12 to 17 will seriously consider a suicide attempt
  • 1 in 40 young people aged 12 to 17 will attempt suicide

Support is available for those who may be distressed

If you need to talk to someone the following services are available:

Organisation Information Phone Number
CCareline CatholicCare delivers free community support and services Monday to Friday from 8am to 6pm 131819
Mental Health Line Mental health professionals are available 24 hours a day to answer calls and assist with any mental health concerns, including if you are concerned about children, teens, adults or older people. 1800 011 511
Beyond Blue Beyond Blue provides information and support to help everyone achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age. 1300 22 46 36
Lifeline Saving Lives Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services 1800 011 511
Parent Line Parent Line  counsellors care available to support parents, whether they are worried about their child’s behaviour, keeping track of their learning from home, supporting their own and/or family’s mental health. 1300 1300 52
kidshelpline Kids Helpline is a free and confidential 24 hour phone and online counselling service for those aged 5 -25 years. 1800 551 800
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