“In the time it takes to have a cup of coffee, you can have a conversation that could change a life”
– Gavin Larkin (1968 – 2011), Founder of R U OK?
September 12 is R U OK? Day – a national day of awareness dedicated to creating meaningful conversations about mental health and suicide prevention.
Most of us already know someone who’s been affected by mental illness or worse, suicide. Those who haven’t been touched by the tragedy of suicide personally, know enough to acknowledge that it happens often — we read about it every day.
R U OK? Day aims to inspire and empower us to connect with the people around us and support anyone struggling with life. And while days such as this are extremely important and contribute to the destigmatisation of suicide and mental illness, this is something we need to do all the time, not just on one day each year.
You don’t have to be an expert to ask somebody ‘are you OK?’. It all comes down to regular, face-to-face, meaningful conversations about life and it’s something we can all do. By taking the time to ask and listen, we can help others to feel connected and supported.
Trust the Signs
This year, R U OK? are calling on us to trust the signs and trust our gut instinct that someone we know might be struggling with life. If you notice a change, no matter how small, trust your gut and ask them how they’re going.
What Are They Saying?
Does someone you know seem:
- Confused or irrational
- Unable to ‘switch off’
- Worried that they are a burden to others
- Lonely or lacking self-esteem
- Worried they are trapped
What Are They Doing?
- Experiencing mood swings
- Becoming withdrawn
- Changing their online behaviour
- Losing interest in what they used to love
- Unable to concentrate
- Less interested in their appearance or personal hygiene
- Behaving recklessly
- Changing their sleep patterns
What’s Going On In Their Life?
Are they experiencing:
- Relationship issues
- Major health issues
- School/work pressure or constant stress
- Financial difficulty
- Loss of someone or something they care about
How to Ask Someone If They Are OK
Preparing for the conversation…
- Are you in a good headspace?
- Are you ready to listen?
- Can you give as much time as is needed?
- When you ask how someone’s going, be prepared that their answer could be: ‘no, I’m not‘
- It’s unlikely you’ll have all the answers yourself (which is ok!)
- Listening to them talk about their personal struggles can be difficult and they might get emotional, embarrassed or upset
- Sometimes they wont be ready to talk or they might just not want to talk to you
Pick your moment
- Have you chosen somewhere relatively private and comfortable for both of you?
- What time will be good for them to chat? Ideally try to block out an hour so you have enough time for a meaningful conversation
- If they can’t talk when you approach them, ask for a better time to have a chat
Asking the question…
1. Ask ‘are you ok?
- Be relaxed
- Help them open up by asking questions like ‘how are you going?’ or ‘what’s been happening?’ or ‘I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. How are you travelling?’
- Make an observation. Mention the specifics that have made you concerned for them, like ‘I’ve noticed that you seem really tired lately’ or ‘you seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?
- Take what they say seriously
- Don’t interrupt or try to rush the conversation
- If they need time to think, try to sit patiently with the silence
- Encourage them to explain what’s going on and how they’re feeling
- If they get angry or upset, stay calm and don’t take it personally
- Let them know you’re asking because you’re concerned
3. Encourage action
- Ask them: ‘where do you think we can go from here?’
- Ask: ‘what would be a good first step we could take?’
- Ask: ‘what do you need from me? How can I help?’
- Good options for action might include talking to family, a trusted friend, their doctor or an appropriate professional
- There are lots of different services and supports available, including beyondblue, Lifeline and headspace.
4. Check in
- Remember to check back in to see how they’re going in a few days
- Ask how they’re going and if they’ve found a better way to manage their situation
- If they haven’t done anything, don’t judge them. They might just need someone to listen for the moment
- Understand that sometimes it can take a long time for someone to be ready to see a professional
- Try to reinforce the benefits of seeking professional help and trying different avenues
We have to work together to make it safe for our loved ones to speak up about their mental health so that when things get super tough, they know they’ve got someone to call and that our world is never ever going to be better off without them in it.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or feeling suicidal, help is available.
Adults can contact…
beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Children and teens can contact…
headspace: 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800