Photos can do a lot of things. They inspire, educate, shock us, and make us think. They capture beauty, evoke fear, happiness, sadness, hope, and love. They can be a mirror of what society values, and what we would rather ignore. They can capture what words simply cannot; after all, as the saying goes – “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
I grew up with ‘Kodak moments’ (which tells my age more so than anything else), that taught us to capture the special moments, the beautiful moments; the ones we wanted to remember, share, and frame. Today everyone everywhere can take photos; capturing the good, the bad, and the ugly. They can be shared in an instant. Edited to a point that no longer reflects what was captured. We see them used as weapons, for blackmail, revenge, and humiliation.
I suppose much like with everything in life, photos are neither good nor bad, it’s how we decide to use them.
So what do pictures have to do with mental health?
Recently, a campaign was started by international Irish rugby player Halifax Luke Ambler, after his brother-in-law was lost to suicide. He wanted to raise awareness of the prevalence of depression amongst men, and encouraged them to speak out, ask for help, and that it’s okay to talk. The campaign #itsokaytotalk has gone viral, reaching all across the globe, from celebrities, to sporting teams, to the everyday men and families it was targeting.
As the photos show, it was about people taking a selfie with the international sign for “okay” – posting it alongside statistics of suicide, depression and mental health amongst men. It further encouraged people to nominate 5 of their friends to do them same; and so it spread.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been nominated several times, yet haven’t passed it on. My hesitation came as I didn’t want this to be just another viral campaign that comes and goes. One that we all get behind, acknowledge and support, just for it to be forgotten until next year; only for the statistics to stay the same, or get worse. This is too close to my heart for that.
The hard thing with awareness campaigns for mental health is that unlike the rest of our health, we can’t just go in for a scan or blood test to know whether or not we need help. It’s a lot more complex than that. Awareness is a crucial and necessary first step as nothing can change without first recognising its existence. However, we need to do more than raise awareness; we need to change these statistics.
In Australia, over 2,500 people lose their lives by suicide each year - That's almost 7 lives lost each day
Worldwide, over 800,000 lives are lost - That's over 2,000 a day
75% of suicides are male, 25% are female
Suicide is the leading cause of death of young people, ages 15-24
20% of the population suffers with a mental illness in any given year
In New South Wales alone, the Police were called out to over 50,000 mental health related incidents
PTSD and suicide is prevalent within all armed services, and emergency response teams (fire, ambulance, and police)
More lives have been lost by suicide in the allied forces in recent wars than those lost in active combat
High risk is also found with doctors, veterinarians, lawyers, and people in finance
Beyond lives lost - there are millions of people suffering in silence each and every day
These statistics are shocking, and confronting.
So what can be done?
It’s complex, and there is no one answer. Awareness is key, however it is only a first step. Action is needed for change, and all of us have a moral and social responsibility to do better. When we take our photo, and post the statistics, let’s also post what we are going to do to make change.
I've just registered for a mental health first aid course #itsokaytotalk
Here are just some suggestions that might be a good place to start:
- Register for a Mental Health First Aid course
- Host a Top Ten night
- Participate in Social September’s Disconnect to Reconnect
- Be active with RUOK Day
- Visit your local Headspace centre
- Volunteer at the Black Dog Institute
- If you haven’t already, go and read my book
- Become informed and have a look at some of these helpful websites and resources
- Organise for myself or an organisation to come and speak to your school, workplace, or community
- Search suitable apps on Apple and Android
- Find out what your school or workplace’s mental health policy is
- The next time there is an event about mental health, go along
- Give a stranger a hug
- Ask a friend how they are, and actively listen to their answer
- The list can go on and on…
We might not need any of this right now, but if we or someone we care for ever does, we will be better equipped. Hopefully we will never have to use any of these skills, and knowledge we gain; but it might just save a life when we least expect it to.
Let’s make change so next year when this campaign comes around, the statistics won’t be as shocking, and they won’t be as confronting.
We all can do something to help make change. #itsokaytotalk
You're ALL nominated