Governor-General David Hurley reaches out to those affected by COVID, disasters to ask R U OK?

Belinda Barrett put up this sign and said her kids get a thrill when someone beeps as they drive past their farm. (Supplied: Belinda Barrett)

Governor-General David Hurley, the Queen's representative in Australia, is ringing people around Australia today to provide some support in difficult times.

It is a tough question to ask at the best of times, but this year has been very challenging for some who have had to cope with drought, fires, floods, and the pandemic.

General Hurley says he wants to make sure people are getting help and to uplift those having a tough time.

General Hurley is personally reaching out. (ABC News)

"I'm pointing out to people how good they are, the strengths they have, and saying 'hey, we are strong enough to get through this'."

General Hurley has been speaking to people in the lockdown areas of New South Wales including local government leaders in Wollondilly, Coonamble, and Gilgandra.

That includes, he said, people still recovering from drought and fires, those preparing to face another mouse plague, and emergency services still involved in flood recovery and rebuilding in the Hawkesbury and Mid North Coast regions.

The Governor-General does not have a role in setting policy, but he does have a position of influence.

"I'm looking for themes, not necessarily individual situations but sometimes when you see someone in a bureaucratic loop you can break that. Although you can't do that for everybody," he said.

Asking R U OK? has perhaps never been more important.

He believes R U OK? Day is important to get people talking about mental health.

"The welfare and wellbeing of Australians should be important to all of us," General Hurley said.

Pandemic worsening alcohol abuse

Brendan Cullen has been an advocate for those battling mental health issues in the bush and has spoken at a number of Lifeline events around the country.

He said people in the far west of the state are still facing issues around the drought, and the lockdown is compounding the situation by increasing people's sense of isolation. 

It is a problem he has had to deal with himself.

"I'm a walking example, but I've put myself in a good headspace, got some tools to handle the situation, and if something creeps back in that I don't like I act upon it," he said.

Even a sign on a gate can help

The Bell family from Warren in western NSW have decorated their front gate with some R U OK? Day signage.

Belinda Bell said she was motivated by the event because of her own issues. 

"I've suffered from mental health issues since I was 16 years old, and had attempted suicide as well," she said.

She is worried about the high number of people lost to suicide.

She encourages people to seek support.

"It's even more important in rural areas as we are a resilient bunch and don't want to burden anyone or have others know we aren't OK," she said.

Rural doctors warn of shadow pandemic

The Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) has warned that a "shadow pandemic" is hitting hard.

A recent state of the nation report by Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) showed that one quarter of Australians know someone who has taken their own life in the past 12 months.

Lifeline help staff are dealing with a record number of calls for help.

Dr John Hall is warning of a "shadow pandemic" of suicide. (ABC News: Selby Stewart)

RDAA president John Hall said that having someone who genuinely cares for you, who asks if you are OK, can make a monumental difference. And right now it is a good time to reach out to others.

"The recent SPA report shows that social isolation, economic challenges, and lost jobs as a result of the pandemic have played a strong role in the deteriorating mental health of Australians over the past year."

Dr Hall said rural GPs are a good place to get advice as they have training and experience in managing mental health issues.

They can also provide a safe and confidential environment for talking about how you feel and the issues in your life that are affecting you.

He encouraged people to think about how they approach others if they want to start a conversation.

"We know that it can be hard knowing what to say when you think something is wrong so there are some great resources available at ruok.org.au to help you get started and keep the conversation going," Dr Hall said.

"If they have been feeling really down for more than two weeks encourage them to talk to their rural doctor who will have the skills and experience to support them."


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