UNSW alumnus shares the conversation that saved his life
In 2013, Adry Awan (BA `18) received news that no 17-year-old should have to hear; he had cancer. Physically and mentally, it was a scary, dark time for him. Thankfully, Adry is now seven years in remission, but he will never forget the conversation that truly saved his life.
“One thing I did not anticipate when I was diagnosed with cancer was the immense impact it would have on my mental health,” says Adry. “To have been diagnosed at such a pivotal time in my life was extremely difficult for me to accept and something I thought I needed to shoulder alone.”
Often sad and angry, Adry began to withdraw from family and friends and experienced suicidal thoughts. “I didn’t want to cause any more heartache to my loved ones. I viewed myself as such a burden on their lives that I would often deny their attempts to help me cope. But thankfully, they persisted.”
One afternoon walking home from school, Adry’s best friend sensed something wasn’t right and this niggling feeling prompted a life-changing conversation. Adry recalls, “it was such a simple, direct question but it completely changed how I viewed my life. He asked me, ‘are you okay?’”
Though anxious and nervous about how his friend would respond, Adry built up the courage to describe how his diagnosis had begun to impact his mental health. His friend put his hands on Adry’s shoulders and said "Adry, you are my classmate, my best friend and I love you like a brother. You are allowed to be happy. You deserve to be happy! And I’ll always be here for you."
“I can’t tell you how much I needed that reassurance,” says Adry. “Hearing him say that he would always be there for me eased the fear I had of losing my support network once revealing my mental state. I truly believe that conversation saved my life.
“I won’t lie, the stigma around mental health caused me a lot of anxiety. During that time, mental ill-health in young people was not often spoken about. I felt shame in speaking up, in fear that my family or friends would think differently or less of me. I was so focused on wanting to be viewed as ‘strong’ that any weakness I felt, I thought I had to hide.”
The UNSW Arts & Social Sciences graduate has since worked with organisations like batyr Australia, Black Dog Institute and headspace to help young people improve their mental health and wellbeing.
“It is such a privilege to work closely with organisations that help young people overcome similar challenges to what I faced. I have seen how we can all play a part in reducing the stigma, and empowering people to take charge of their mental health.”
This year, on R U OK? day, Adry encourages everyone to consider their mental health and that of those around them.
“If you’re going through a difficult time, give yourself permission to be open and honest with your feelings and consider the steps you might take to receive support, whether from a trusted family member, friend or a professional.
“Alternatively, if you recognise that someone close to you hasn’t been acting themselves lately, reach out to them and ask the question ‘are you okay?’. Listen to what they have to say and help chart a path for them to receive further support.
“If we all make a conscious effort to check in with one another, we can break down the stigma that surrounds mental health. That way no one will have to suffer in silence or ever feel alone.”
If you or anyone you know needs mental health support, please contact: