Hock­ey­roos wave the flag for the Thanks for Ask­ing cam­paign

When things get tough, peo­ple can need a boost. A cam­paign aims to do just that with maybe even a com­plete stranger ask­ing ... R U OK?

The West Australian - - NEWS - Liam Croy

Wa­gin-raised Olympian Ash­leigh Nel­son can thank her mother for a lot of things in life, but there’s one par­tic­u­lar mo­ment that stands out in her in­ter­na­tional hockey ca­reer.

It was her first year in a highly com­pet­i­tive Aus­tralian se­nior squad and the 2008 Bei­jing Olympics was barely six months away.

Poor per­for­mances at train­ing had gen­er­ated stress that was dog­ging her on and off the field.

Her mother picked her up from one such train­ing ses­sion and sensed some­thing was off, so she did what came in­stinc­tively — asked if she was OK.

“I think we were sit­ting in the car at the time and she turned around and asked me how I was man­ag­ing,” Nel­son said.

“I broke into tears and told her I was stressed and un­happy.

“My mum said, ‘If you’re not happy do­ing what you’re do­ing, you shouldn’t do it and you know you have our full sup­port’.

“That’s all I needed. I just needed some­one there to sup­port me. That con­tin­ued to mo­ti­vate me and help me through that pe­riod.

“I’m al­most at 200 games now so to look back at that time, I think it could have been dif­fer­ent.”

Nel­son missed se­lec­tion for Bei­jing but her tal­ent shone through and she scored a goal in a vic­to­ri­ous gold medal match at the 2010 Com­mon­wealth Games.

She has since added the Lon­don Olympics, a World Cup sil­ver medal and another Com­mon­wealth Games gold medal, but she hasn’t for­got­ten those early days.

“It was a dif­fi­cult time but you live and learn from that,” she said.

“I got a lot out of that year and it’s prob­a­bly made me the player I am to­day. It also made me more aware of the younger girls in the team.”

Now 28, Nel­son is an am­bas­sador for R U OK?, a not-for-profit group founded by late Syd­ney advertising ex­ec­u­tive Gavin Larkin in 2009 af­ter his fa­ther took his own life.

Mr Larkin died of can­cer in 2011, but his vi­sion for a na­tional day of ac­tion to pre­vent sui­cide and pro­mote com­mu­ni­ca­tion about men­tal health has only gained mo­men­tum.

A few days af­ter last year’s Glas­gow Com­mon­wealth Games, Nel­son com­pleted the Kokoda Trail with her team­mate and fel­low R U OK? am­bas­sador Rachael Lynch, rais­ing $30,000.

In their role as am­bas­sadors this year, they are spread­ing the mes­sage be­hind the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s 2015 cam­paign, “Thanks for ask­ing”, which urges peo­ple to ac­knowl­edge some­one who has helped them through a rough patch.

The cam­paign was launched in Perth this week and will cul­mi­nate in R U OK? Day on Septem­ber 10, which is also World Sui­cide Preven­tion Day.

Ex­perts es­ti­mate about 65,000 Aus­tralians try to take their own lives each year — or one ev­ery 10 min­utes.

Hock­ey­roos goal­keeper Lynch lost her un­cle to sui­cide.

“I think a lot of peo­ple know some­one who’s been through men­tal health is­sues,” Lynch, 29, said.

“The idea be­hind R U OK? is start­ing the con­ver­sa­tion.

“Some­times that might be all it takes, just one or two peo­ple show­ing a bit of in­ter­est or show­ing that they ac­tu­ally care.

“You don’t nec­es­sar­ily have to be qual­i­fied to help some­one.”

Out­side hockey, Lynch is a reg­is­tered nurse in the neuro-re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion unit at Fiona Stan­ley Hos­pi­tal, where she sees the R U OK? con­cept in ac­tion.

Staff make a point of check­ing in on their col­leagues and pa­tients, par­tic­u­larly those who never have visi­tors.

She said the prob­lems pa­tients dealt with quickly put things in per­spec­tive.

“I get wor­ried about the most stupid things, like not be­ing able to lift a cer­tain weight, and these peo­ple are learn­ing to walk again,” Lynch said. “They were gen­er­ally healthy and happy and they’ve lost their abil­ity to walk or talk or eat.”

“You get some who have fan­tas­tic fam­ily sup­port but to be hon­est you get plenty who don’t.”

Suzanne Wal­dron, 36, another WA am­bas­sador, knows how much of an im­pact one con­ver­sa­tion can have.

Af­ter an ex­tremely trou­bled child­hood, a men­tal break­down and a pe­riod in foster care, Mrs Wal­dron was home­less in Eng­land by the age of 15.

All seemed lost un­til a stranger went out of her way to ask if she was OK.

“A beau­ti­ful woman in a pub spoke to me and said I could use her phone num­ber and ad­dress to re­ceive job ap­pli­ca­tions,” Mrs Wal­dron said.

“Within a cou­ple of days I had a job and af­ter about two weeks I was rent­ing a room.

“That one act of the woman giv­ing me her phone num­ber, if that hadn’t hap­pened, I wouldn’t be where am I now.”

By reach­ing out, the anony­mous woman helped her get her life on track, but Mrs Wal­dron re­serves most of her grat­i­tude for her hus­band Phil, 44. The cou­ple met about 20 years ago and moved to Perth in 1999.

Since then, Mrs Wal­dron has gone from strength to strength, inspired by her hus­band’s un­wa­ver­ing sup­port and will­ing­ness to lis­ten.

She is now a mo­ti­va­tional au­thor and speaker with years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a Life­line cri­sis coun­sel­lor.

In keep­ing with the Thanks for Ask­ing cam­paign, she has ex­pressed her grat­i­tude to Mr Wal­dron by writ­ing a let­ter.

“How many times, I won­der, have you asked me if I’m OK?” Mrs Wal­dron wrote.

“So many dif­fer­ent mo­ments in those decades where your at­ten­tion, your in­ter­est and non-judg­ment of me has en­abled, en­cour­aged and helped me feel OK.”

For his part, Mr Wal­dron thinks lis­ten­ing is more im­por­tant than try­ing to come up with po­ten­tially

Peo­ple need to look af­ter oth­ers.

Phil Wal­dron

half-baked so­lu­tions. He loves the R U OK? mes­sage of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and kind­ness, and he thinks his wife’s story is a good ex­am­ple of its power.

“I think it’s in­cred­i­bly sad that out there in a place like Aus­tralia, sur­rounded by peo­ple, you can live in a bub­ble where you feel iso­lated and alone,” Mr Wal­dron said.

“I think peo­ple need to go out of their way to look out for oth­ers and I think as you go on in life, you learn how im­por­tant those things are.”

To write your own let­ter of thanks, visit ruok.org.au.

If you or some­one you know is think­ing of sui­cide, call Life­line on 13 11 14.

Spread­ing the mes­sage: Hock­ey­roos play­ers and R U OK? am­bas­sadors Ash­leigh Nel­son, left, and Rachael Lynch.

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