Western Sydney health heroes ask: R U OK?

Wendy Cain and fellow MHFAider Joanna Andre Garrido

Our health staff are not just caring for the public, they’re also checking in on each other thanks to training available in Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

Thursday September 9 is R U OK? Day – a day to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with the people around them and start a conversation with those in their world who may be struggling with life.

In the uncertain times, staff across the WSLHD Mental Health First Aider network are ready to ask the most important question: “Are you really okay?”

Mental Health First Aid courses teach people simple, practical skills for helping a family member, friend, co-worker or anyone who may be experiencing mental health problems.

It’s not a counselling role, but “more of a friendly face and supportive person”, explains WSLHD patient and carer experience manager Wendy Cain.

“You can often tell when the stresses of everyday life are getting to people, and when you notice, one of the best things you can do is gently and respectfully approach them, at the right time, and ask: are you okay?” Wendy said. 

“Right now, we are not living the lives we thought we would be two years ago. Our children are not living the lives they thought they would be, and this uncertainty for what the future holds for us all can cause a lot of stress and anxiety for people.

“People are reaching out more, and you have to be there to listen. It may not always be an appropriate time, but you need to ensure you make time to go back and connect with them.”

Wendy said being a mental health first aider is a rewarding role, and you don’t need to be a mental health professional to do the course.

“It teaches you how to listen and respond to someone with a mental health problem, and also teaches you how to help someone to access the support they might need,” she said.

My role is in patient experience, and in my opinion, staff experience is directly linked to patient experience. I want staff to have a good experience at work and I want them to know that they have support when they are struggling at work or at home.”

With restrictions in place, some WSLHD mental health first aiders are working remotely – but there are still many accredited staff showing up to the frontline daily. 

Westmead Hospital Emergency Department nurse unit manager Donna Robertson said she sees the stress and anxiety currently being faced by health staff.

 “Everyone is dealing with the external pressures of lockdowns and isolation, but on top of all those things, these staff work on the frontline,” Donna said.

“People are worried about bringing the virus home to their partners, their children, their parents.

“I am glad I can be there for my team and the wider WSLHD community.”

Donna Robertson

Donna is encouraging all staff, managers and the wider community to train as a mental health first aider.

“It can help you personally, professionally, and gives you vital skills and knowledge to have the conversation and refer staff or loved ones to an appropriate source of help.

“It is important that we look after each other’s mental health and ask people: are you okay?”

Each year WSLHD takes time to mark R U OK? Day with events and education for staff to help them have difficult conversations.

If you are a WSLHD staff member wanting to connect with a mental health first aider, please visit the Staff Wellbeing Hub (only accessible for employees) where you will find contact details.

For more information or resources on how to ask some “are you okay?” please visit www.ruok.org.au

If you or someone you know is in a crisis situation, please call triple zero (000) or the following organisations for support:

NSW Health Mental Health Hotline – 1800 011 511

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46 36

Men’s Help – 1300 78 99 78