R U OK? Day is a powerful mental health awareness initiative which encourages and empowers people to have conversations with those who may be struggling. What really bothers me about it however is that it shouldn’t be restricted to just one day. We should be checking in with those around us regularly; our family, friends and co-workers, and making sure that if they need someone to talk with, there’s always an ear and friendly encouragement available.
So lesson 1… don’t wait until a special day on the calendar to ask if someone’s okay.
But it’s often not the easiest thing to do, right? What is the best way to ask if someone is okay?
Lesson 2… just do it. There’s no time to waste if you suspect that someone is struggling with their mental health. So tread sensitively, and perhaps take them to a quiet place to ask, but tell them that you’ve noticed that they’re not themselves lately, and check in with them about their current mental state.
And most importantly, how can you help if they respond with ‘no’. Lesson 3 gives you some pointers to guide you through the process:
- Listen – don’t underestimate the power of listening. Sometimes people need to hear their issues out loud to make sense of them, and the support of someone who is actively listening and paying attention can help more than you or they realise. Listen without interrupting and show compassion as they talk.
- Ask questions – try to ask open ended questions to encourage the person to continue voicing their concerns.
- Show empathy – try to see things from their point of view and validate their concerns by showing empathy and using phrases like, ‘it’s understandable to feel the way you do considering all that you’re going through’.
- Don’t try to fix their problem – it’s not up to you to find a solution. You may be able to provide some helpful suggestions but you certainly don’t have to. And don’t feel helpless if you can’t, as often it’s not advice they’re after, but rather someone to listen and help them feel supported.
- Ask if they need urgent help – it’s hard to know how deeply a person is suffering or if they’re thinking about self-harm or even suicide. The best thing to do is just to ask and listen to their response without judgement. If they respond with ‘yes’, refer them to available support and helplines, and give them a call yourself to gain some specific advice relevant to the situation.
- Lifeline (24-hour crisis telephone counselling) 13 11 14
- Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
- Mental health crisis lines
- Encourage them to seek professional help – encouragement to seek help is all that you can offer at this point, only the individual can act on the decision to seek professional help. You can direct them to their GP, mental health professional or local support group.
- Follow up – make sure you check in again and reiterate that you care and that you’re available to talk should they need to.
Asking R U OK? is a small gesture but can be significant to a person’s mental health whether you suspect they’re struggling or not. Check in every now and again, be open and supportive if they’re not okay and offer an ear or helpful resources if you can.
Here are some online tools which may assist anyone looking to improve their mental health:
Beyond Blue – educational resources
Head to Health – self-help programs
This Way Up – online depression test
Centre for Clinical Interventions – self-help workbooks