Eight people take their lives every day in Australia. It’s a harrowing statistic, but one that University of Canberra Alumnus, and CEO of R U OK?, Brendan Maher, wishes to reduce.
Graduating from the University of Canberra in 1998 with a Bachelor of Communication, Brendan majored in Advertising and Marketing. Straight out of university, he was fortunate enough to land a position with The Communication Co. (now known as Zoo Communications), where he eventually began working on a national rebrand for Lifeline.
With a foot in the door, he took a role with the not-for-profit organisation that was unlike anything he had done before; setting up a Cannabis Information helpline.
Working his way up, he learnt on the go and found a great mentor before eventually moving into a General Manager position where he looked after fundraising, marketing, corporate relations, media and communications. After seven years with Lifeline he took a break, when an opportunity with the suicide prevention charity R U OK? came up. In 2015, Brendan became the CEO of R U OK?.
Working to prevent suicide in Australia
For Brendan, a key part of his role is to ensure that all activities and collateral are aligned to the core mission of the organisation.
"It's an extremely busy but rewarding role that I am passionate about," he said.
While R U OK? has faced many challenges over the years, it has worked tirelessly to become a leading movement in the prevention of suicide in the short space of seven years.
"Seventy per cent of Australians know of the R U OK? organisation and one in four Australian's have participated in R U OK? Day events, in some way. People are responding to this initiative," Brendan said proudly.
Talking about mental health
The next step for R U OK? is translating that awareness into real behavioural change. People are engaging in more meaningful ways than before. There is a higher indication that what R U OK? is doing is giving others more confidence in being able to reach out to those that are in need.
Brendan believes that while there have been monumental changes in the perceptions of mental health, there is still the misconception that we shouldn't talk about it.
"We have come a long way in the last decade but there is still more that needs to be done," he said.
"There is still the tragedy of blindside and questions left behind. The amount of times I can count of people who have lost someone saying, 'if only I knew what I know now I would have seen the signs and intervened'."
The more we can do to upskill people and give people the capacity to notice when someone might not be doing ok, the better.
According to Brendan, R U OK? Day is just a spotlight to get on the radar and forefront of people's minds, but these conversations need to happen year-round.
"Take the time to have a think about the people in our lives that we haven't connected with for a while and start having meaningful conversations," he explained.
"Ask them questions, take a look around and notice things. Sometimes it's obvious that people aren't doing well, and other times it's just someone not acting themselves."
R U OK? is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to create a world where everyone is connected and is protected from suicide. For more information please visit the R U OK? website ruok.org.au
Words by Stephanie Cossetto, images courtesy of ruok.org.au