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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 10329

Ms McBRIDE (Dobell) (19:39): 'Are you okay?' is a simple question that could change your life. Tomorrow is RU OK? Day, a national day founded in 2009 by Gavin Larkin, dedicated to reminding people to ask their family, friends and colleagues the question: 'Are you okay?' As Gavin has said, getting connected and staying connected is the best thing anyone can do for themselves and for those who may be at risk. Tomorrow, and every day, we need to encourage people to take four simple steps that could change a life: ask; listen; encourage action; and check in.

Suicide is a global crisis. Every year more than 800,000 people die by suicide. Suicide is a national crisis—the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44. Seven Australians, on average, take their life every day. Suicide is a local crisis. Suicide rates in my community of the Central Coast of New South Wales remain above the state and national average.

In the last year and a half, four people I know died by suicide. Michael Marmot sagely notes:

… suicide is an individual act, but the suicide rate is a property of the community.

The Tree of Dreams in Budgewoi began as a tribute by Kylie to her friend who died by suicide. The old fig tree held hundreds of heartfelt handwritten messages, lit up by fairy lights. As Bev, who founded the Iris Foundation after her granddaughter's death by suicide, says, 'People who have been affected by suicide may not have the courage to express how they are feeling. The Tree of Dreams gives them a chance to write a message of hope and to feel that they are connected, that somebody cares and that somebody understands.' This year the Iris Foundation joined Kylie, and a Tree of Dreams was held at the Milk Factory in Wyong from 18 August to 10 September, World Suicide Prevention Day.

I wrote four messages for the Tree of Dreams: for Ramy, who made me smile every time I walked onto the medical assessment unit; for Ric, 'Our Eels have had a great season'; for Graham, who was burdened by the tragic loss of his sister, my friend Melissa; and for Sean, who loved drawing, playing his guitar and his dog. I spoke to Di, Graham's mum, tonight, and this is what she wanted me to share with you: 'Graham had a brilliant career. I never thought that this would happen. As a parent, I don't know that we ask enough questions—even of ourselves. And I don't think enough is being done.' I would like to acknowledge and thank Dawn, Sue and Bev for their work on this special project and their tireless efforts in our community towards suicide prevention.

Earlier this year, doctors at Wyong hospital held a loud shirt and fairy floss day to promote awareness of the increasing rates of mental health issues and suicide among the medical profession. As someone who worked at Wyong hospital in mental health for almost a decade, I know that mental illness does not discriminate, and I remember my former colleague Dr Ramy. I acknowledge the efforts of Dr Michael and Dr Benji to promote mental health awareness at Wyong hospital.

Mental health is a workplace issue. Jobs with high demand and low control carry a special risk.

This week I received a letter from Cassandra, a veteran of the Royal Australian Navy and a constituent in my electorate. Cassandra wrote to me deeply concerned about the wellbeing of veterans and, in particular, the rising rate of suicide. I was saddened to learn from Cassandra that, so far this year, we have lost 42 veterans to suicide. The known under-reporting of suicide could make this figure even higher.

I also met with Bob, who—apart from being well known as a member of The Entrance Men's Shed—is a volunteer for Overwatch Australia, a not-for-profit group supporting ADF members at risk or in crisis. Bob served in the Defence Force for 20 years and is currently the national coordinator for the Royal Australian Engineers for Overwatch. He volunteers to provide support for service men and women struggling with mental illness, creating a network of serving personnel and veterans who can help each other in times of need.

We can make a difference. And you don't need to be an expert—just a great mate and a good listener. So, if you notice someone who might be struggling, start a conversation. Ask them: 'Are you okay?'

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hogan ): I thank the member for Dobell for that heartfelt contribution.