Local face for R U OK?

New role: R U OK? community ambassador for Newcastle Ben Burgess wants to start meaningful conversations about mental health.
New role: R U OK? community ambassador for Newcastle Ben Burgess wants to start meaningful conversations about mental health.

Mental health awareness organisation R U OK? has named Newcastle man Ben Burgess as its first community ambassador for the city.

The 34-year-old will promote the R U OK? message at schools, workplaces and clubs and try to build the community's ability to have a conversation with somebody who is struggling, as part of the volunteer role.

Mr Burgess has faced challenges of his own, being diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and depression from the age of 13. As a teenager, he struggled with his mental health. In his early 20s, he began to look at medication options and started to make sure he was leading a healthy lifestyle in order to manage his mental health. He said he kept his challenges between himself, immediate family and a few close friends until 2016, when he started talking about his journey on social media.

Mr Burgess said he did not expect the support he received after he started telling his story - sometimes from strangers on social media. He said he had since become an "accidental counsellor", someone people could confide in.

"I was willing to expose my vulnerability," he said.

"I thought if it helps out a few of my friends it's worth it."

R U OK? CEO Katherine Newton said the organisation was grateful that Mr Burgess was passionate about spreading their message to start meaningful conversations about mental health.

"We are all human and we all go through life's challenges," she said.

"It's OK to acknowledge the fact that those around us will likely need our support at some point. You don't have to be an expert to ask R U OK?, it's about standing shoulder to shoulder with someone who is going through a tough time.

"We won't always be able to fix someone's problems - but we can listen, guide them towards professional support and help them manage the load."

Anyone who wants to invite Mr Burgess to speak about R U OK? can get in touch at events@ruok.org.au R U OK? Day is held on the second Thursday of September each year.

It's OK to acknowledge the fact that those around us will likely need our support at some point. You don't have to be an expert to ask R U OK?, it's about standing shoulder to shoulder with someone who is going through a tough time.

Katherine Newton, R U OK? CEO

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