With R U OK? Day approaching – September 8 – I will proudly don my bright yellow RUOK tee Community Ambassador tee.

I wanted to reflect on my recent trip to America, where I took part in the International Visitor Leadership Program.

I headed off for whirlwind, three-week trip in July with 11 other internationals for the  Innovations in Mental Health, Self-care, and Wellbeing program.

I hoped I could bring back knowledge, ideas, contacts and so much more to help strengthen how we see, speak about and operate in mental health.

Since returning, I haven’t really had the opportunity to digest all of the information learnt and the opportunities that lie ahead.

But I have so many innovative ideas which I believe can add value to awareness and education in Tasmania.

There is one giant lesson from the trip that I cannot stop thinking about it.

As a group, we met more than 30 organisations, and surprisingly for almost all of them, their common message was America as a whole continues to face  major challenges when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention.

They shared that their mental health system in general is disjointed, navigating it is hard to understand, hard to access and even having a conversation about mental health or suicide was difficult in many places.

This shocked me, because my assumption was America would be well advanced in this space and have it “all figured out”.

To hear the challenges they face expanded my appreciation of our own country – how lucky we are in so many ways when it comes to mental health awareness, stigma reduction and support avenues.

They shared that the USA recently launched a new national 3-digit hotline for those in mental health crisis, all in a bid to free up resources from overwhelmed first responders. However, many states are finding it hard to fund staff to occupy the phones and deliver the intended resources.

They shared that some cultures still view the idea of mental health as “weak” or “shameful”, which creates ongoing challenges for service providers and awareness campaigns to provide support and create meaningful traction and change.

This stigma prevents organisations getting into sporting clubs, schools and community groups.

They pointed us to a recent study that found across America an alarming number of high school children spend less time outdoors than inmates in maximum security prisons.

Knowing how important it is for my mental health to get outside, I found that really confronting.

I know people could say we shouldn’t compare – that America is a bigger place, with more people and run very differently.

I’m not doing that; I am simply highlighting I learnt that in Australia we do a lot of things well.

In the modern world where humans often highlight the negatives, or things we get wrong, I want to focus on how we are making a difference.

As Australians – and more specifically as Tasmanians – we have come a long way and continue to create more opportunities to do better.

How lucky are we that mental health programs and awareness campaigns are accepted, embraced, and highly supported in entering schools, sporting clubs, community groups and workplaces to educate people about mental health?

How lucky are we to have our State Government continue to fund the new 1800 Lifeline Tasmania phone service, allowing people to speak with trained support workers to assist us with issues and challenges happening in our lives?

How lucky are we that more than 15,000 people got involved with Stay ChatTY’s Shorts Day for 2022, in a show of solidarity for braving the mental health conversation?

However, we must never become stagnant or complacent. Because there are still people in our own backyard overwhelmed by stigma,  people on a long wait list to see a professional to talk about their challenges.

And there are people reading this who are deeply missing a loved one who  took their own life.

My trip away was a real eye-opener. It reminded me that no matter what, I want to do my best to remain positive and have faith that collectively we can  continue to prioritise mental health.

Please remember on R U OK? Day for 2022 and beyond we will all face tough times, have bad days, experience loss and heart ache.

But I urge everyone to do our best to choose the good in what we know, choose to be kind to those around us and choose to be positive about the future.

Together, lets ask R U OK? No qualifications needed… and remember a conversation can change a life!