With suicide the leading cause of death among young people aged 15 – 24 in Australia, national suicide prevention organisation, the R U OK? Foundation has launched a schools-focused mental health program aimed at encouraging students to start open and honest conversations about their emotional well being.
The R U OK? at School program was officially launched in Sydney at Canterbury Boys High School by Federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, The Hon Mark Butler MP, and will help Australian teenagers support each other through the ups and downs of school life.
The new program will complement the message of R U OK?Day™, a national day of action which this year falls on 13 September, aimed at promoting the importance of regular connection with others in an effort to help reduce Australia’s high suicide rate.
On average, 2,100 Australians commit suicide each year, accounting for more deaths than those caused by road accidents.
The R U OK? at School program, developed in partnership with online youth mental health initiative ReachOut.com, was successfully piloted in 2011 and aims to empower students to both ask the question "are you ok?" and find the courage to say "I'm not ok".
The dedicated schools-based program will deliver relevant educational support to both students and teachers on topics including peer support and how to manage school pressures, throughout the year.
By encouraging open communication, it will help students manage situations before they culminate in isolation, mental illness, depression or other factors that can result in suicide.
Resources will be made readily available online, reflecting the four principal messages of R U OK? Day:1. A conversation could change a life.
R U OK? Day Co-founder, Janina Nearn says the schools program is focused on building resilience, and helping young people cope with issues that can continue into adulthood.
"By helping students to understand how they can support their friends, and also when it's appropriate to refer them to expert help or flag the issue with an adult or school counsellor, we can create a culture of shared responsibility and care," she said.
"Encouraging people of all ages to have meaningful conversations can help stop little problems from becoming bigger."
Australian Rugby legend and R U OK? Ambassador, Wendell Sailor, speaks from personal experience, "I know how traumatic it can be to suffer from bullying at school and I urge kids to reach out to each other if they see a friend in need. It may seem like a hard thing to do, but don't be afraid to speak out if you are not OK."
The R U OK? at School initiative allows students to actively drive the program in their own communities while providing teachers with complementary teaching resources to encourage safe, positive and meaningful conversations.
The resource development for the schools program has used a participatory design approach, with input sought from both students and teachers from various high schools.
Minister Butler heralds the importance of adopting a shared responsibility for tackling the tragic statistic on youth suicide.
"Increasing individual and community resilience is the cornerstone of the Australian Government's suicide prevention strategy," Minister Butler said.
"This program will help teenagers discuss issues impacting on their social, emotional and physical wellbeing and ask for help before those issues escalate."R U OK? Day falls on Thursday 13 September 2012. For more information and resources, head to www.ruokday.com or call 1800 RUOKDAY (1800 7865 329).