news

Three little words. And they have the potential to save someone's life.

Ben and Renai
Ben and Renai

By NATALIA HAWK

Ben Ross is a high-profile rugby league player who suffered an injury during a game in 2009. He was tackled and the disk of his neck exploded – so essentially, he broke his neck and was left one millimetre away from quadriplegia.

It was an incredibly hard time for him, both physically and mentally. He went through some incredibly dark days as he recovered from the injury. And the only reason he survived?

Renai Ross. His wife. She’s the woman who stuck with him through it all. I sit down with her to find out a bit more about what it’s like to support someone through such difficult times.

She takes me back to the moment when the injury happened, during a game against Penrith. His teammates fell on him and he heard a crack.

“It didn’t look like a real bad tackle, and he didn’t think it was as bad as it was, because he managed to get up,” Renai tells me. “It wasn’t until we went to the hospital and got the x-rays and Ben found out the damage that had been done and how serious it was, that it hit us both.”

It took two years for Ben to recover, and he had 3 operations on his neck. He was incredibly determined to get back on the field, but that was understandably made challenging by the extent of his injury.

“He’s such a strong man, but he lost all his muscle tone and was bed-ridden and had trouble even walking after the operation,” Renai says. “To see that happen, was very devastating. And mental health, he obviously had his ups and downs. There were periods when he thought ‘why am I doing this, is it worth it’ so there were lots of downs, but we’d just surround ourselves with positive people, we’d try and talk about it.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Ben would snap over something little, and Renai would know that he wasn’t feeling good that day. Or he’d have a really bad week, and she’d just ride it through. “I think communicating and talking a lot about how he was feeling, that had a lot to do with it. And just listening – I didn’t always have answers for things, but just listening to how he was feeling and taking that on board,” she admits.

She says that the period of time was both incredibly emotionally draining and scary. They didn’t think his recovery period was going to take as long as it did; nobody thought it would. And yet they would continue to go back and see the doctor, and the doctor would tell them that his neck wasn’t healed. And that, understandably, was incredibly draining.

Renai was also working full-time during the period of time, which she actually credits as a benefit. “His mind off things was that I would talk about things that happened in my day, because not much would be happening in his day, and often after the operations he would be housebound. So if could just draw from my experiences throughout the day, it might be something really mundane, but it was something to talk about to take his mind off the pain and his present condition.”

RUOKRenai tells me that family and friends were also vital during that period of time; their support and company kept Ben occupied while Renai was at work. And after everything, he’s back to where he was before the accident: much happier with life. Their relationship is back to being great.

But Renai doesn’t want to stop talking about that dark time. She wants to get the word out to those who might also find themselves needing to support a significant other through a difficult time. She wants to raise awareness of mental health issues, and reduce the stigma around mental illness, so that people might be more willing to speak to their loved ones about it.

ADVERTISEMENT

She’s especially passionate about getting boys and men to talk about how they’re doing. “It’s really important for men like Ben to come out and say this is what happened to me, and this is how I got through it,” she tells me. “I think they find it so hard to talk about emotions, and things like depression and suicide.”

And she’s right. The issue of mental illness and suicide is a huge one – 2300 Australians take their life each year, while 65,000 attempt to take it. Suicide is the biggest killer of 14-35 year olds and – here’s the kicker – men are 3 times more likely to die of suicide than women.

So here are Renai’s main tips for talking to someone who you might be worried about:

– Take the time to ask what’s the matter, how are you feeling.

– Just listen to what they’re saying. Don’t pass judgement and you don’t have to have an answer for what they’re telling you. Just let them talk to you and express how they’re feeling.

– Don’t say, ‘it’s not that bad’ or things along those lines. They don’t want to hear that when they’re not in a good place.

– If they’re unwilling to communicate – just take little steps at a time. If you have a conversation and get a little something out of it, and you go back to it and they bring up that point again, it’s just little baby steps. Hopefully you can help them see the light, or they might feel they can lean on you.

BANNER_2A

Today is R U OK? Day, run by a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to encouraging all people to regularly and meaningfully ask ‘are you ok?’ to support those struggling with life.

It’s not always obvious when someone is struggling with life, which is why we need to ask ‘are you ok?’ throughout the year. Asking the question is something we can all do to help make a difference

If someone isn’t ok, follow these simple steps:

1.       Listen; don’t judge

2.       Don’t try and fix the problem. Instead, let them know they’re not alone and you’re there for them

3.       Help them to identify possible next steps

4.       Stay in touch and ask how they are again soon

00:00 / ???