After being introduced in Australia eight years ago as a non-profit suicide-prevention organization, R U OK? Day has made it to Canada. R U OK? will be introduced in Powell River on Thursday, September 14, in what is hoped will become the signature event for the Jim Young Foundation.
“About 80 per cent of Australians know about and could tell you about R U OK? Day, which is pretty amazing,” said Heather Gordon-Young, foundation chair and the person responsible for starting the campaign in Canada. “It's had an incredible success.”
Gordon-Young said she hopes the campaign has the same impact in Canada as it has had in Australia.
The local foundation was named after Gordon-Young's brother, Jim, who took his own life in 1992 at the age of 26 when Gordon-Young was a very young girl.
Its creation as a non-profit society coincided with a book Gordon-Young wrote called Fireflies: Finding Light in a Dark World, about Jim’s struggle with mental illness and addiction that led to his death by suicide.
Suicide is a big issue in Powell River, according to Vancouver Coastal Health medical health officer Paul Martiquet, who cites the most recent 2013 results from the BC Adolescent Health Survey conducted by McCreary Centre Society.
“McCreary survey data of adolescents shows that 11 per cent seriously considered suicide in the past year and seven per cent actually attempted suicide one or more times,” said Martiquet. “As far as deaths go, I can’t give the exact numbers, but there has been deaths last year.”
Based on 2016 census data, those percentages equate to about 140 young people between the age of 10 to 19, generally accepted as the age range of adolescence, have considered suicide.
“I don't believe that asking my brother if he was okay the day he took his own life would have changed the outcome that day,” said Gordon-Young. “I do believe that earlier on, if the adults and the friends in his life had the insight and the tools to try to step into the struggle he was having, those regular, ongoing, meaningful conversations would have created the relationship he needed to find the support and the help.”
What comes from such a simple question as, "Are you okay?," could lead to a conversation that can change a life. When barriers of isolation are broken down and real social connections are made, the result is a true and caring community where everyone matters and anyone can make a difference, according to Powell River Child, Youth and Family Services Society programs director Ann Kurtz.
“Anyone can check in with a friend, a neighbour, a co-worker and help decrease those barriers to isolation, because we know when people are isolated, health issues increase, including depression,” said Kurtz.
According to Gordon-Young, R U Okay? Day is meant to focus on reducing isolation and creating meaningful conversation and connection between everyone.
“It's an initiative that matters to everyone and encourages us to check in with all the people in our lives in ways that we might not otherwise do,” said Gordon-Young. “So asking people, 'Are you okay?' and making time to engage with people on that level is what it's all about."