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R U OK? Day 2021

Ladies and gentlemen, Linda and I are delighted to join you for today’s webinar and to help recognise R U OK? Day.

The day itself has become an important date on the national calendar.

More important than a single day, R U OK? has become a national movement and empowered countless meaningful and genuine conversations about mental health.

Conversations that occur every day of the year in every setting you can imagine.

Conversations that have changed lives by either picking someone up in a dark moment, sparking ongoing support or prompting professional mental health care, advice or treatment.

The ripple effects of R U OK? have been immeasurable. Lives changed or saved. Actions to create an empowered, empathetic and caring movement of people, and a more connected and stronger community.

Linda and I wanted to be with you today for three reasons.

First, we are passionate supporters and advocates for R U OK? We believe in the organisation’s goal of creating a world where we’re all connected and inspire each other with a sense of hope. We admire the work of the team, ambassadors and supporters for turning an idea into a national movement that has a real impact.

Second, R U OK? is at the heart of my job as a Governor-General.

I will share just one example.

In 2019, Linda and I visited Binna Burra in Queensland in the immediate aftermath of the devastating 2019 bushfires. We met people who had lost everything. There were tears, immense grief and considerable uncertainty. One couple in particular stood out – we met them on the side of the road and spoke with them after they’d inspected their destroyed property and possessions for the first time. They were, as you can imagine, distraught and despairing. Strong people but almost without hope.

It is a situation that, sadly, has been repeated time and time again over the course of the last two years. We have spent time in communities and held virtual meetings with representatives from communities that have been devastated by drought, flood, fire, cyclone and storms, a mice plague and, of course, the pandemic.

We’ve met countless people who have been brought to their knees by circumstances and events that are out of their control.

People who may have been knocked down but who don’t stay down.

This is partly because of their own grit and determination. But it is also because they are not ignored or left alone.

We’ve seen and witnessed the power of a hand-up. Of asking R U OK?

In communities far and wide, in the toughest of times and in the normal course of daily lives, we’ve witnessed firsthand the care and compassion that Australians have for each other and the impact of that kindness.

It gives me enormous optimism for our future.

We are a good people and a strong people.

And we are at our best when we reach out and connect with each other.

We revisited Binna Burra a couple of months ago and spent time with the same people we’d met in 2019. The period between our visits had, of course, been full of ups and downs and the rebuild was ongoing. But as we shared a cup of tea in the local school we heard story after story of people who had reached out and helped out – who had not let a week go by without checking in and asking R U OK?

And that couple? It was the lady’s birthday. Their lives weren’t perfect or magically fixed, but they hadn’t been alone and knew they were cared for. They had hope. What a gift to give.

That brings me to the third reason we wanted to be here: this is a very important time for us to ask R U OK?

People are, by necessity, physically isolated in many parts of the country. The COVID-19 pandemic is creating ongoing economic and health issues, including significant adverse mental health impacts. These are difficult issues to manage.

But we will overcome them.

I have no doubt about that – not because I see the world through rose-coloured glasses but because I have witnessed firsthand, time and time again, who we are as a people, and particularly those who work in the mental health sector.

As I said, it gives me enormous optimism for our future.

We must draw on our national characteristics that have been so evident in previous difficult times and use them to bolster and support each other as we deal with our own disappointments.

None of us alone can defeat COVID or eliminate all uncertainty, but the things that are in our control: listening to directions, getting vaccinated and being considerate to those around us, can shape both how we get through this and what we look like on the other side.

Asking R U OK? – not just today but every day, is a pretty good place to start.

I’d urge you to join in one of the thousands of events being held nationally in our towns, schools, sporting clubs and businesses.

R U OK works best when it is in your world.

Simply asking someone ‘R U OK?’ can have a significant impact.

Thank you.