Time to ask a colleague if they’re OK

In this guest post, Joe Talcott argues that this Thursday’s R U OK? Day is particularly significant for the media and marketing industry

When STW Executive Gavin Larkin first spoke to me about his idea for R U OK? Day I was a bit uneasy. After all, discussing suicide has always been taboo. I was surprised to hear that suicide claims more lives in Australia each year than road accidents.

But then I realised that I could not think of anyone I knew who had been killed in an auto crash, but I quickly recalled three people I knew that had taken his or her life. The first was a High School mate many years ago. Each of the other two were talented, creative colleagues who worked in advertising.  

I considered all three of these events to be tragic, but naively thought that they were unpreventable.

That’s why the concept of R U OK? Day was so appealing to me. It wasn’t a fundraiser; it was a day of action that could literally change a life. Because, as Gavin explained to me that day, research shows that talking about suicide with someone at risk actually reduces the chance of them taking their own life.

I’m writing today in Mumbrella because I think that R U OK? Day has special significance for this industry.

Why we should care:

We all move at an incredible pace, working hard in a broad area called “communications”. We devote endless hours to understanding how people think and behave. Yet we can be oblivious to those people around us. Working side-by-side and yet unaware of how they are handling the pressures, criticisms, fatigue and stress that is common in our line of work. We should care about R U OK? Day because it provides an opportunity to pause, look around, and connect with someone in a way that could help stop a little problem from becoming a big one.

Why we should act:

Many of us have had the opportunity to do work for charities or noble public causes. But most times we are well removed from the end result of our efforts. We apply our talents to help inform and persuade others to donate time and/or money to provide services, fund research or educate. But the results of our actions can be years away from the work we do.

R U OK? Day gives us the opportunity to be part of the end result; because communication is one of the most effective means of preventing suicide. And for the majority of us, that simple action of asking someone how they’re doing can help prevent a little problem from growing into a big one. In the time it takes to have a cup of coffee we can help change a life.

So, will you help? Point your friends and colleagues to the R U OK? Day web site. Encourage their participation. And this Thursday October 7, take a moment and talk with someone you care about. Ask them if they are, in fact, OK.

Gavin Larkin discusses last year’s R U OK? Day:

  • Joe Talcott is group director of marketing at News Ltd and chairman of the Australian Association of National Advertisers


  1. DT
    5 Oct 10
    2:12 pm

  2. Brilliant initiative. Good on you Gavin.

  3. Fiona
    5 Oct 10
    2:13 pm

  4. Those conversations are hard, but can be very valuable in the scheme of things. Even if you don’t get someone opening up to you on the day, they might (like I did) come back to you as someone who has shown an interest when they are ready to seek help, to open up.

  5. adam ferrier
    5 Oct 10
    2:19 pm

  6. Great work Joe. Let’s break the back of suicide as a taboo subject and ensure mental health is front and centre of the agenda.

  7. David
    5 Oct 10
    2:45 pm

  8. Simply wonderful.

  9. Cathie
    5 Oct 10
    3:26 pm

  10. You make an excellent point about the grim irony of working in communications yet failing to talk to one another.
    I think it’s especially important given it’s an industry where people work long hours, are frequently pretty stressed and -just maybe -party a little harder than other industries – and these behaviours can disguise real problems (while arguably sometimes contributing to them).
    It shouldn’t be a hard thing to reach out to someone, but I applaud this campaign for reminding us how important it is.

  11. Goldmember
    5 Oct 10
    5:09 pm

  12. This is something well worth outing.

    Good on you Joe, Hugh and Gavin,

    I have experienced a suicide in my family. And I have found a history of mental illness going way back in my family that predisposes my gene pool to this.

    And i am considered highly creative.

    Did u know that the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA states that 80% of all medical expenditures are stress related.

    This is a ticking time-bomb, not a trendy new cause to champion.

    Here is a clip from one of the self help groups that counsels family members in a suicide pre-disposed family. It may help the application of “R U OK Day”.

    Warning Signs for Potential Suicide

    • previous attempts (single biggest
    indicator of a completed suicide to come)
    • giving clues (90% of kids who suicide
    give many clues)
    • make poor choices about safety (no seat
    belts, no condoms)
    • hospitalized (especially for consequence
    of living dangerously, for depression or
    other mental health issues)
    • long-term depression
    • pre-occupation with death
    • listening to depressive or violent music
    • writes of these themes
    • self-mutilation
    • frequent crying spells
    • withdrawn behaviors
    • change in peer group
    • rebellious
    • increase in acting out behaviors
    • loss of interest in usual activities
    • talk about death
    • may have experienced many losses
    within a short time
    • hopeless/powerless/out of control
    • recent suicide of another
    • increased physical symptoms
    • giving away belongings
    • no hope for future, no plans
    • fatigue – loss of energy
    • blames self for parents’ divorce, a death,
    some event
    • loss of hygiene, tidiness, organization
    • changes in long-established patterns
    – they may be hoping someone will
    – may be having difficulty in
    concentration, thinking
    • changes in eating, sleeping patterns
    • sudden cheerfulness or peacefulness
    after long depression
    – decision may have been made
    – child has a new sense of power and
    • sudden focus on everyone but
    – may be an attempt to distract attention
    away from themselves
    • setbacks after slow or extended recovery
    • radical change in personality
    • talking about funerals, death
    • trouble concentrating
    • closure of friendships, relationships
    • move into a “more troubled” peer group
    • increased drug / alcohol abuse (selfmedicating
    against the pain)
    • promiscuity
    • increased risk-taking
    • suicidal attempts
    Often these kids feel both exceptional and isolated.

    If You Ask Someone R U OK ?. Watch Out For These Messages;
    “I can’t go on.”
    “I hate my life.”
    “I’m tired.”
    “I’m bored.”
    “You’ll regret it when I’m gone.”
    “I have to do this on my own.”
    “You won’t be seeing me around anymore.”
    “I’m going to kill myself.”
    “I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.”

    Its not just creative types, but ill bet we are punching way above our statistical weight.

    Taking the time to talk and listen without judging can make all the difference. As i have found out too late.
    “I feel like I could just kill myself.”

  13. Sam
    5 Oct 10
    5:46 pm

  14. very good initiative

    However, i think most people (or maybe just me) would be frightened to reveal such intimate info to colleagues less it spreads and the stigma associated with mental illness become associated with the person asked the question.

    As a person who has long suffered from severe anxiety (i have to psych myself up to speak in meetings a lot of the time despite being in an industry where half the day is in meetings) and depression, I would put on my happy face and say no, I’m fine if someone asked me. I have a reputation as a extrovert and always happy, tho its mainly a mask.

    I don’t want to be regarded as mentally ill due to the stigma, even if I am. I have done reasonably well (or should I say I have managed to get to reasonably senior positions) in this industry, despite my mental illness and really feel for anyone who suffers from mental illness.

    So I appreciate this campaign probably more than most and will try and ask someone on the day.

    I don’t know Gavin Larkin or Joe Talcott – but good on you guys for this positive caring initiative.

  15. Joe Talcott
    5 Oct 10
    7:52 pm

  16. Sam
    Thanks for your comment . . . And your support for the day.

    Your situation is not uncommon and it is what makes asking someone the R U OK question difficult.

    The site below has advice for everyone on how to ask the question . . . and what to do when someone say “I’m not OK”.



  17. Sam
    5 Oct 10
    10:43 pm

  18. You are a sweet man Joe – who knew marketing bigwigs at News Ltd had hearts 😉

    and senior advertising ppl like Gavin as well 😉

    This is not the advertisng and marketing industry I know :p

    Well done fellas – you should be proud of yourselves.

    I actually read somewhere that someone who had attempted suicide (it may have been a Golden gate bridge survivor – not sure) said that as they walked to the spot where they jumped, they would have not jumped if \anyone had shown any sort of friendly communication with them, a nod, a smile or any sort of connection with another human being as they were so lonely, dejected and depressed.

    That story hit me hard as I was shocked at how it illustrated potentially how easy it was to make a difference in the life of someone who might be doing it tough and directly as result of reading that story I sometimes make an effort to smile, nod at strangers etc if our eyes make contact (which probably makes me the kind of person people cross the street to avoid – tho i find most people smile or nod back) but it shows the beneficial power of connecting with another human being which is why I think this day is such a wonderful idea.

    Like I said well done guys and hope it is a big success.

  19. Oli
    6 Oct 10
    1:03 pm

  20. What a timely piece! I commend all of you for being a part of such an amazing cause! Sometimes you realise your so close to it all, you don’t even realise it is happening! I’ve forwarded this to my entire agency! This is fantastic and makes me smile that you guys have really attempted to help!

    Well done to you all

  21. Joe Talcott
    6 Oct 10
    1:39 pm

  22. Thank you Oli. That is exactly what we’d like to see happen at every agency, marketer and media company!

  23. Thomas Dodson
    6 Oct 10
    2:50 pm

  24. Hey Tim…

    Are you okay?

    Dont want you to think we dont care, after all..

  25. Theo Thomas
    6 Oct 10
    6:02 pm

  26. It’s very true. We are so involved with working out what other people think or want that we often neglect our “friends” because we assume they understand how busy we are and besides if thery had a problem they wouldf call us. But that simply isn’t so. When things become very desperate we often clam up and try to deal with it ourselves. RU OK? might just get someone to open up.

  27. Cate
    6 Oct 10
    6:54 pm

  28. Gavin, proud to call you a friend. What a great thing you are doing with this initiative, more power to you.

    Cate Richards

  29. MattP
    7 Oct 10
    9:29 am

  30. Absolutely brilliant!

  31. Iggy Pintado
    7 Oct 10
    11:08 am

  32. Gavin, Joe and Tim,

    Thanks for bringing this to our collective attention. For the last few years I’ve been researching and speaking about the power of connection and there is no greater proof point than this.

    In closing, I have to ask – R U OK? :)

    Cheers, Iggy

  33. emily
    7 Oct 10
    4:10 pm

  34. Great and poignant article

  35. S.
    7 Oct 10
    4:53 pm

  36. This piece has got me thinking of a few good friends who I see often and ask “How are you?” but now really want to ask “R U OK?”. I think the two questions are worlds apart and we don’t even notice.

  37. Frances Jones
    7 Oct 10
    6:52 pm

  38. Thank you for sharing this interview with Gavin Larkin. Life is precious and I think it’s great that as a country we can talk about these important issues more easily now. My tweet stream is full of #ruokday. I’d be happy if it was every day.

    Consequences of emotional trauma are:
    1. Anxiety
    2. Depression
    3. Substance abuse- alcohol, smoking, drugs. People don’t feel good about themselves so turn to substances to influence the way they feel.
    4. Eating disorders- anorexia, underweight and bulimia. Food addiction- obesity.
    5. Gender Identity Disorder
    6. Psychosis
    7. Suicide


  39. Gavin larkin
    7 Oct 10
    7:21 pm

  40. Thank you for all these posts and for your support for R U OK?Day. One of the most exciting characteristics about the marketing,communications industry is our ability to influence. Whether it is selling a product,service or suicide prevention movement. Achieving a great result with a wonderful idea can be very satisfying and fun. But it is our ability to actually influence National isuues, generate debate and/or make a difference which is arguably our most powerful contribution.
    I personally consider it one of the great privileges of our industry that we can impact and make a real difference in people’s lives.
    On behalf of the STW Group, the 12 individual companies who contributed ( inparticular the teams at Yello Brands, Alpha Salmon and Moon) and the RUOK? team thank you to all who took part and asked someone they care about “are you ok”. To be part of something that helps change lives for the better is an honour. To do it all because it needed to be done and because we could, not because of a client brief or with client money speaks volumes about the organization and what is possible for all.
    Gavin larkin
    Founder and CEO

  41. Doug Chapman
    8 Oct 10
    9:12 am

  42. Hey Joe,
    Thanks for caring enough to write this article and supporting the work of Gavin and many others in suicide prevention.
    I felt completely helpless as I watched the mother of my children attempt to take her own life over and over again for eight years. She eventually comitted suicide about twelve months ago. The effect of this has left scars in our family that may never heal.
    I didn’t want to write anything but I felt compelled to also raise the plight of those who suffer with the person. In many cases they become incredibly astute at picking up the signals of someone who is about to take their own life, sometimes weeks and days out from the episode.
    I have spoken to many friends and collegues over this period who have been through similar circumstances and there is one common concern. It is the failing of the public health system to deal with suicide prevention. I won’t waste this column detailing the issues but suffice to say that we all have an obligation to get mental health properly addressed by state and federal governments who to date have failed to adequately deal with this problem that effects way more people than just the actual sufferer.
    Campaigns like RUOK do a wonderful job to get the issue on the public agenda.

    Well done.

  43. Ronnie
    11 Oct 10
    2:48 pm

  44. Great initiative. Reckon it might be worth posting the following in case anyone needs help right away:

    * Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800