R U OK Day ambassador and mental health advocate Craig Mack on how a simple conversation can make a world of difference.

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I was scrolling through my Facebook feed late last year when I saw one of those posts that always breaks your heart.

“Another life gone too soon. I’m sorry you felt so lonely and that I failed you as a friend. Your smile lit up the room and I wish I could have done more to help,” it said.

It was the eighth time that I’d seen a post about someone taking their own life in less than two years and, having lived with depression since I was a teenager and attempted suicide three times, I felt like I needed to do something to help.

Being gay was never an issue for me. The gene doesn’t run in my family, it gallops, to the point where being straight would have been more confusing for everyone.

However, I did grow up with a mother who was a heroin addicted, drug dealing sex worker in a world of heavy drug use, domestic violence, bikie gangs, and police raids.

I was a pretty lonely kid who was never really a priority in an environment where children don’t belong.

When I turned 15 I moved in with my gay uncle and his partner and the damage from this type of childhood started to show, leading to self harm, my first suicide attempt, and the diagnosis of depression.

Sadly Australia’s youth suicide rate is the highest it’s been in ten years and, with 16 per cent of LGBTI youth having attempted suicide, it’s a huge concern in our community and one we must act on.

If you’ve never experienced the rollercoaster of depression it can be difficult to spot the signs: in friends or in yourself.

Those of us who have a ticket for the ride also become masters at hiding the signs, so we can function.

Maybe that’s why none of my friends noticed when at 24 everything I’d been holding onto from my childhood crushed me like tidal wave. I withdrew from the world and made my second attempt at suicide which felt like more of a necessity to stop the pain than a choice.

We live really busy lives and it’s hard to keep up with everyone, so maybe that’s why no-one noticed how broken, lonely, lost, and overwhelmed by darkness I had been for over two years when I made my third and final attempt at suicide at 36.

Now, as a way to give back, I’ve become an R U OK Day ambassador to provide a face and voice to the issue in the LGBTI community. I’ve become a friendly face people can ask questions of, and can help people understand depression and suicide so they are better able to help their friends.

R U OK Day is about taking a moment to look out for your mates and being a friend when it’s needed most. It can be confronting when someone says no though so, if you don’t know where to start, just follow R U OK’s four simple steps to starting a conversation.

Ask: not being okay looks different on everyone but changes in behavior are a good clue that something might be wrong. The best thing you can do is ask.

Listen: listening isn’t always about having an answer, so don’t feel that you need to solve the world’s problems. Just take the time to show you care.

Encourage action: it might be as simple as suggesting something fun to break the routine, or more serious like speaking to a doctor or health professional.

Check in: checking in shows you’re there as a friend, keeps us accountable for any actions we’ve committed to, and helps to break the loneliness and foster reconnection with the world. Like any illness it can take time to get back on your feet and support from friends helps.

Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, transgender and gender diverse community face a lot of unique challenges and we are more vulnerable because of them.

We are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than the broader population, and we’re at greater risk of self harm and suicide.

Sometimes I look back at my experiences and wonder how, 40 years later, I’m still standing.

Technically I shouldn’t be and more often than I’ll ever admit I don’t want to be but if there’s one thing I have to be really bad at, I am glad that it’s knocking myself off. Life is too much of an adventure.

In Australia around 65,00 people attempt suicide each year and around 3,000 of those succeed but it doesn’t need to be this way.

We should be able to notice changes in our friends and we should be able to help them when they are struggling, so every now and then we can just ask “hey gurl, heey, R U OK?”

R U OK is on September 14 but every day is a great day to help a friend and have a conversation that could change a life. For more information on the four steps around starting a conversation or about R U OK DAY visit: www.ruok.org.au.

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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