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?
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.
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.