“RUOK are just words for a problem which needs action”
Mental health nurse Aislynn reflects on what RUOK Day stands for: an abdication of responsibility for mental health by governments and the private sector.
Well it’s that time of year again. When workplaces are awash in a sea of yellow and black, companies are spamming us with ‘RUOK’ more times than we can count, and politicians are promoting the day everywhere. It’s the time of year that enrages most mental health nurses and those with lived experience of mental health issues. This is because ‘RUOK’ are just words for a problem which needs actions, and mental health and suicide prevention requires sustained, systemic actions. Mental health is a complex problem greatly exacerbated by real world issues of social welfare and personal crisis.
We see politicians promoting RUOK day. These are the same politicians who systematically underfund the necessary solutions to the challenges of mental illness. They gut mental health funding so that mental health nurses can’t provide the care that people desperately need. Mental health services are becoming ever more privatised, just look at the recent takeover of the mental health line by Medibank in some LHDs, even though the evidence is overwhelming that privatisation leads to profits over care and results in poor mental health outcomes. Welfare and disability payments have been stripped to below the poverty line and put shame and stigma on those who need this safety net. Affordable housing is near impossible to find, and public housing is bursting at the seams with people waiting years to have a home made available to them. Mental health care that is available on Medicare in the community is a rare sight, to the point where most people can’t afford to see a psychiatrist. And no matter how hard we fight, they government refuse to give us proper nurse to patient ratios, even though it is a fundamental contributor to nurse and patient safety. The grim irony is that even as the NSW government post on social media and wear their badges, they have neglected to respond to the union’s sustained campaign to have the best practices implemented for patient care and safety.
All of this leads us to question whether they do believe that mental health issues and suicide can be address with such a simple gesture as ‘RUOK’, and if they do then they are clearly unfit to make decisions about mental health care. If they don’t believe this and actually understand the complex nature of treating mental health issues, then it leads to even more concerning questions about their complete disregard to address these issues. It is a moral failing of the NSW government and they have let the community down.
And then there are the companies, who have taken over the day and made it a way for corporations to look good on social media. These are the companies who refuse to pay their taxes properly, and if they did there would be more than enough money to fund mental health services. These companies also stigmatise against their workers with mental health issues, making it harder to access sick leave because you can’t see the problem if you even get sick leave. They expect more from their workers for less, with the increases in overtime and the casualisation of the workforce.
If we want to address suicide prevention, mental health care must be adequately funded both for inpatients and in the community. Secure, affordable housing has to be considered a fundamental right and made available to everyone. The privatisation of mental health services must be stopped and services that have already been privatised must be returned to the public system. The most vulnerable of our community need to have access to a welfare system that doesn’t leave them below the poverty line. Mental health care needs to be made widely accessible via Medicare. The government needs to tax companies properly, so that this can all be funded without the common argument of ‘where will this money come from’. Ratios must be guaranteed so that we can provide care in a safe and effective manner.
Now more than ever, we must band together and fight for our patients and the community so that we can prevent suicides and guarantee the best possible outcomes for the people who need it most.