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Are you a conversation mate?

Asking someone “how are you” is an everyday exchange that has somehow lost its intended meaning. It could easily be replaced with “hello” or “g’day mate” as a mere greeting. How often do you reply to “how are you” with “good” “well” or “busy” and then move on?

There is a yellow bus making its way around the country right now that is planning on changing the way we both ask and hear this question. On board are the R U OK? team, a not-for-profit organisation that is bringing attention to the fact that our conversations matter. These everyday exchanges can definitely improve our lives, and in some cases it can also save a life.

“[R U OK?] is a simple question… something that needs to be asked more often than not” – Nathan Thompson

By checking in with your friends, family and work mates and genuinely and mindfully asking that question – going beyond a mere greeting – you can invite others to open up about their joys, and achievements, as well as their stressors and struggles.

One player who regrets not opening up sooner about his own struggles is Nathan Thompson, a two-club, 179-game forward, whose personal experience with mental illness has encouraged him to speak up about the benefit of asking others R U OK?

“[R U OK?] is a simple question, very powerful and something that needs to be asked more often than not,” says Thompson.

“Especially with people you know, you can really open up the line of communication and get them to tell you what’s actually happening in their life and find out exactly how they’re travelling.”

Thompson also acknowledges that when you are not in a great place it takes courage to open up and share with others. His biggest regret from his 327-goal career wasn’t that elusive premiership, but his decision to hide his depression and battle mental illness alone for so long.

So what stops people from sharing when they are struggling? Sometimes it is the culture you are in – football is about showing strength and power on the field – it is a male dominated environment which can sometimes make it harder to share your more vulnerable side. Fears that if you show “weakness” you will not get selected, you will lose the respect of coaches and team mates.

The irony is that often people simply admire your courage in speaking up, and just want to help as best they can. This was Simon Hogan’s experience at Geelong, where he played for three years. In the AFL community video The Elephant in the Room Hogan talks about the support he received from team mates and coaches when he eventually shared his experience of depression.

‘You don’t have to have all the answers, you just have to listen without judgement’

You don’t have to be suffering from a mental illness for this question to be relevant to you. Human beings are wired to connect, and often ones of our biggest fears is social rejection. If we admit that there is something wrong with us or our life we worry that people will judge us harshly. Part of the R U OK? challenge is to not only take the time to ask the question, but to also give people permission to honestly share how they are going.

What can you do? Listen mindfully. Respond with care and kindness. You don’t have to have all the answers, you just have to listen without judgement and if necessary help the person explore their support options, such as their friends, family, doctor or psychologist.

AFL Players’ Association have teamed up with R U OK? to create a workshop to help players gain confidence in their ability to notice if a fellow team mate, friend or family member is struggling, to know when and how to ask R U OK?, how to listen without judgement, and how to refer on as needed. This workshop has been piloted with players from two clubs in 2014 and will be rolled out to more players in 2015.

You can become a supporter of the R U OK? campaign yourself by jumping online and pledging your support as a conversation mate. Look out for the R U OK? Bus on its National roadshow. The yellow bus and the R U OK? team left Darwin three weeks ago and are set to arrive in Melbourne September 6th before ending the journey in Sydney for national R U OK? Day on September 11th.

Further Information:

More information on the R U OK initiative and how you can support it can be found on their website and social media channels Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.


Need Support?

If you know someone who requires immediate assistance or support, please contact:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Mens Line Australia: 1300 78 99 78

Support for AFL Players: If you are an AFL Player (current or past) and would like to know more about our specialised AFL Players psychology support please contact Jo Mitchell or Jen Ashton at