For Americans, Sept. 11 is a day of national empathy and remembrance.
For Australians, it’s Sept. 13, a day when residents ask each other if they’re OK.
In 1995, Australian businessman Gavin Larkin’s father committed suicide. Larkin, who some described as an “alpha male,” learned of his father’s lifelong depression only after his death. The experience transformed Larkin and sent him on a quest for ways to help others at risk of suicide before it was too late.
In 2009, he finally achieved his goal with the creation of a national suicide prevention campaign that simply asks: R U OK?
“Could R U OK? and that question being asked by the right person at the right time have saved my father?” Larkin told ABC Australia at the time.
Three years later, one man’s campaign to encourage empathy and concern for the people we love has become a national day of awareness, with endorsements from Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, and other Australian celebrities. The R U OK Twitter and website offer statistics on suicide awareness and ways to help. There’s even a hotline, 1-800-RUOKAYDAY.
The campaign, with its simple message and honest concern, seems to be effective. “I sent an all staff email today promoting #ruokday,” said Twitter user Aaron Hussey. “I’ve never had so many people ask me if I’m ok.” On Tumblr and Instagram, supporters wore T-shirts and challenged their followers, “Who will you ask?”
On Reddit, a thread promoting the campaign racked up over 1600 comments as redditors asked each other how they were doing and shared their own experiences with suicide.
Part of the groundswell of support for the campaign arises from the remarkable story of its founder. Just a few months after the first RUOK day was held, Larkin learned that his son had a brain tumor—and that he himself had cancer.
Despite the odds, Larkin and his family stayed positive and hopeful. While his son recovered, Larkin passed away one year ago.
“Gavin Larkin was a remarkable man who knew just how important having a conversation was,” former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tweeted earlier today.
“You have made a difference to a world of several billion people,” one commenter wrote on Larkin’s blog after the announcement that Larkin had passed away. “Few of us will ever do that.”
Photo via GNT Magazine/Tumblr