Ask ‘R U OK?’ No qualifications needed.

Coffee lovers across the region were surprised with a free cup of their favourite drink this morning.

For the third year in a row, HealthWISE shouted the morning rush in 23 cafés across the New England North West and southern Queensland to give locals a break and a reminder to look after one another, as part of RUOK Day.

RUOK Day is a national initiative which encourages Australians to check on friends and family by starting a conversation on mental health.

HealthWISE mental health clinician Anne Edwards said simply asking “Are you ok?” and really listening to the answer can make a big impact on someone who is struggling.

“It can make a huge difference, because when people aren’t feeling well, or they’re feeling suicidal, it can be really difficult to actually reach out to other people,” she said.

“The stresses of the last few years means most people at one stage or another have been feeling really vulnerable and not feeling ok.”

Aneeka Armstrong, David Lawson, Aiden Morrissey and Bec Vickey from Armidale's The Glasshouse
Sarah, Andrew and Zhane from Ipswich's Shakana Cafe.

Armidale’s The Glasshouse owner David Lawton is deeply committed to the cause, which he said became very personal last year when a friend of his twin sons committed suicide.

“It was incredibly hard to watch them and their friends try to process this tragedy. He was a much loved young man who, for a moment, could not see that fact,” David said.

“Hopefully through days like this, we can assist in preventing even one further tragedy.”

Prue Russ from Tamworth’s Teamo said the café takes part in RUOK Day because they like to raise awareness. As staff hand over the free drinks, they take the opportunity to ask customers if they are ok, and suggest that they can ‘pay’ for their coffee by asking someone else the same question.

“It’s a very important reminder to check on everyone,” said Patricia Young from Ebor’s Fusspots Café.

“It’s great to spread the word and let people know they can access help if they need it,” said Nellie Harris from Toowoomba café, Nellie’s Kitchen.

“There are a lot of people out there with mental health issues, with everything that’s going on. Today gives the chance to ask the question ‘Are you ok?’ and a good opportunity for people just to talk,” said Shakana Café owner Samantha Taiapa. Her staff dressed in yellow to promote the event.

Country Dust Café owner Angie Plain said it was time we treat anxiety and depression the same way we treat physical ailments, and feel no shame visiting the doctor or taking medication to treat symptoms.

Nellie Harris hands Janette and Russell Letchford their free coffees and some information about RUOK Day at Nellies Kitchen in Toowoomba.

Restored by two local farmers, this was the first year The Vicarage Café in North Star was able to participate. Manager Tracey Williams said it was a wonderful initiative, and was pleased to help promote the RUOK Day message. She said many people have been struggling with day to day pressures and the rising cost of living, and so this was a great opportunity to check in with one another.

Carolyn and Todd Bellman of the Croppa Creek General Store agreed that many community members are feeling the pressure due to rising fuel and living costs. The couple have promoted RUOK Day for the past three years, and aim to provide information and a listening ear to locals and visitors alike.

Linda from Wee Waa's Marinda Nursery.
Prue Ticehurst at Inverell's Freckles Cafe

RUOK recommends checking in with yourself before asking others how they are, to ensure you are in the right headspace for a conversation on mental health, are prepared for a negative answer and have picked an appropriate time to ask.

The organisation suggests four key steps: ask the person if they’re ok, listen with an open mind, encourage action by urging them to commit to something that might help their situation and check in with the person afterwards.

Elaine and Nidai Refikogullari, owners of Pilliga Cafe.

“Asking ‘Are you ok?’ – it doesn’t turn you into a doctor or anything like that,” Anne said.

“It’s about listening to the answer and then encouraging that person to seek appropriate help, be it their GP or looking for a referral to an organisation like HealthWISE for psychological support.”

HealthWISE offers a range of services across the region, including mental health clinicians, lived experience, Aboriginal outreach, drought and bushfire relief. We also run regular Touchpoints suicide prevention workshops, which are designed to help everyday people learn how to recognise warning signs and support people affected by or at risk of suicide.

Rebekah Duddle at the Bluebird Cafe in Boggabri.
Amelia Smith and Miranda Keenan at Gunnedah Campgrounds.

To learn more about the services HealthWISE offers in your area, visit this page. To learn more about how to have a conversation about mental health, visit ruok.org.au.

Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24/7 crisis support. Always call 000 if a life is in danger.

Tamika, Julie and Tracey at The Vicarage in North Star.
Inverell HealthWISE staff Chris Connor, Max Rex, Alicia Morgan and Bernise Leece.
Kelly Skelton and Angie Plain at Warialda's Country Dust Cafe.
Kim Mitchell, Amelia Smith and Jenny Thomas at Freckles Inverell.

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