With things the way they are out in the world, it's OK not to be OK right now.
With that in mind, and R U OK? Day taking place on Thursday 8 September, don't just perfunctorily ask your friends and family how they're doing, expecting the answer to be, "I'm fine." This year, use it as an opportunity to not just open up a real conversation, but to check in on your own mental health—no matter the actual date.
One mistake people often make is putting too much emphasis on simply asking the question. But it’s the follow-through that’s really important, which is why we got a little help from Beyond Blue and R U OK? to get a roadmap of how to go about starting a conversation with someone about their mental health.
The Importance Of Asking ‘R U OK?’
- Understand that the broader function of the R U OK conversation is to give you a snapshot of someone’s mental state, and to get people talking openly and honestly about their mental health.
- If they don’t want to talk, or aren’t ready just yet, that’s totally fine. Asking lets them know that you’re willing to listen when they are.
- R U OK is naturally a very personal enquiry, so take a beat to consider the nature of your relationship and whether you’re close enough to discuss mental health.
- Timing is everything, so take care to pick your moment. ‘R U OK?’ can be asked at any time when you’re both comfortable and relaxed.
What Not To Do
Make it about you. One rule of thumb is to avoid starting a sentence with the words ‘You should…’, which can be really hard because a lot of us have an impulse to try and offer a solution. That urge to help is totally normal but remember that the conversation is about letting them express themselves and empowering them to address their mental health.
Before You Start
When you’re preparing to ask the question, also be prepared for them to say ‘no’. Approach the conversation as if your friend or family member will need to talk and set aside enough time. It’s also important to make sure that you’re in a good headspace and are able to actively listen if they need.
A Note For Respondents
If you feel comfortable talking about it, know that your response might not fit neatly into either a simple ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. If you’re doing really well and your head is in a really great space, say so. Similarly, if you’re only just ‘ok’, elaborate on it. Everyone suffers from stress or anxiety from time to time, so a full report is helpful.
So, R U OK?
Give them a prompt and encourage them to explain further. If they push back, don’t pressure them to talk, but if they’re ready to confide listen without judgement. Active listening is really key here, so make sure you are engaged with what they say and check that you’ve understood them properly if you need to.
Once they’ve said their piece, encourage action. R U OK has some great tips on what you can say to help them take some positive steps. If they’ve been feeling low for more than two weeks consider contacting a professional.
Maybe they’re fine now, but they didn’t used to be. Maybe they have on days and off days. Whatever their situation, this is where following up is really important. R U OK recommends staying in touch and making sure you’re there for them. Merely knowing that someone genuinely cares for you can make a huge impact.
You might want to recommend they take a look at the Happy Not Perfect app. It’s free and works to combat anxiety and stress.
This is the answer we all want to hear, but it doesn’t herald the end of the conversation. You might want to enquire about work or study stress and how they’re handling it. This will help give you a better idea of their mental state, and also demonstrate your interest in their mental health if they need to talk down the track.
Prevention is the best cure, so you might want to recommend they think about developing some mental health practices (again, the Happy Not Perfect app is good) if they have some stressful work or study commitments coming up.
For more info or you or someone you know is struggling check out the R U OK website for help and solid advice. If you want to talk to someone or hear a friendly voice give the legends at Lifeline a call on 13 11 14.
Image credit: Urban List