In appreciation of #RUOK Day

Today, 12 September 2019, we ask a simple question that could change a life:

“Are you okay?”

RUOK day was created in 2009 by Gavin Larkin in response to the tragic suicide of his dad, Barry Larkin. Feeling helpless and consumed by grief, Gavin channeled his time and energy to create the RUOK program. His ambition was to raise awareness and start a national conversation about suicide prevention and mental health, which at the time was taboo.

Just that conversation, that one question, changed a life

Gavin’s aspiration was to teach all of us the right words to say when our gut tells us that things aren’t okay with a colleague, friend, loved-one, neighbour – anyone in our community – who needs support.

“Getting connected and staying connected is the best thing we can do for ourselves or anyone at risk,” said Gavin.

What Gavin has built from his own personal tragedy is nothing less than extraordinary. He would have been forgiven for withdrawing from life to deal his own feelings. But instead he found the personal and moral courage to speak up about suicide and mental health issues, and in doing so he’s made a big difference to the well-being of others. 

Every day is RUOK day

As a consequence of RUOK day and similar programs, suicide and mental health problems are no longer a shameful topic to be hidden behind closed doors. 

Today is RUOK day and high profile personalities and political leaders, past and present, will encourage Australians to reach out to their friends, family, colleagues and community to ask those simple words. 

In my podcast, Helen O’Keefe Talks Safety, I have the good fortune to speak with CEOs about workplace safety and well-being and at a time when there is royal commission after royal commission into the unethical behaviour of Australian leaders, it is refreshing and encouraging to speak with CEOs who give the same priority to the well-being of their employees as they do shareholder returns.  I have learned that many CEOs are calling for more open conversations about mental health and suicide prevention at work. It’s fabulous. 

Earlier this year, MaxiTRANS MD & CEO, Dean Jenkins, told me conversations about suicide and mental health aren’t easy but they’re so important. Last month, Australian Red Cross Blood Service CEO, Shelly Park, told me she believes we should all expect to go to work and return home safely (mentally and physically) every time. 

And then there are the people I immerse myself with every day, the health and safety professionals who dedicate their careers to making every day RUOK day. They build cultures and systems to take care of us at work. Through every conversation, they remind us that asking “are you okay?” is an every day practice. They encourage us to look out for each other, listen to our guts when something doesn’t feel right and to speak up about safety and well-being.  

I’m grateful to Gavin Larkin, the founder of RUOK day and to the leaders and doers who encourage us to connect with and care for each other and I am proud to be working in a profession full of everyday heroes. 

Although today is the official RUOK day, thank you to all of the health, safety and wellbeing professionals in this world who make every day a RUOK day. 

If this article has raised any concerns for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Learn more about RUOK day


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