Did you have an okay RU OK Day? I didn't.

Part of me has always been ambivalent about mental health promotion as ‘event’ with days like RU OK Day or World Suicide Prevention Day, both of which occurred in the past week. On the one hand they are better than nothing, acting as a focal point to catalyse awareness and providing accessible pathways for participation. On the other hand, there’s a risk of complacency: ask the question, post an RU OK message on Twitter or Facebook and tick – I’ve done my bit and then it’s back to business as usual. As someone who lives with a mental illness, the true test for me is not if you ask me if I’m ok on RU OK Day but whether you ask tomorrow, next week or the week after that.

Still I put my doubts aside and became involved with a group of colleagues who were organising a lunchtime seminar about workplace mental health to coincide with RU OK Day. Their enthusiasm and commitment was infectious and progressing the seminar through the layers of corporate channels was not insignificant given this particular workplace is not known for being proactive about mental health. Even better, around 100 people rsvp’ed for the seminar.

We were all set or so I thought. Until on the day and at the designated hour when 65% of the rsvps were no shows. I can only speculate as to why people didn’t turn up – illness, competing pressures, or simply deciding that going out to lunch was a better option. Even more surprising, the no show rate surpassed the usual 20% for business related seminars.

An unkind view would suggest that people voted with their feet and put other priorities ahead of the mental health seminar. Perhaps what the no shows didn’t realise is the signal their non-attendance sends to people like me – an indifference to mental health in the workplace, a lack of support for people with mental illness. It certainly has made me think twice about disclosure on the days when I’m not feeling okay. A kinder view is that those who made the effort to come were genuinely interested in their workmates welfare and improving their own mental health literacy. As one colleague remarked after the seminar, change doesn’t happen overnight, it takes one step at a time.

Nonetheless, a gloomy pall pervaded my afternoon, even accompanying me to my usual coffee haunt when I popped in for a pick me up double shot of espresso. The barista noticed all was not right with the world as I ordered. When he brought over my coffee, there were two raspberry chocs nestled on the saucer. ‘A little something to cheer you up’ he said. Bless.

It just goes to show that actions do speak louder than words. After a random act of kindness, my RU OK Day became a whole lot brighter.