Maybe life got in the way and you didn’t get a chance to ask, but given that October was Mental Health Month, we thought we’d give you a refresher on the importance of maintaining (and checking in) on your own mental health, and opening up the conversations with your loved ones—no matter the time of year.
All kinds of work and study stresses can wear away at your mental health, and a lack of knowledge about coping mechanisms or preventative measures (as well as stigma around seeking help) lets stress fester and grow into something worse. As a result, mental health issues tend to emerge in our 20s as our tendency to use drugs and alcohol for comfort, and lack of preventative care, coincides with fluctuating physiological changes in our brain’s development.
One mistake people often to 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 what to say and 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.
A Note For Respondents
If you feel comfortable talking about it, know that your response might not fit neatly in to 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’, extrapolate on it. Everyone suffers from stress or anxiety from time to time so a full report is helpful.
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 of 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.
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. RU 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. RU OK recommends staying in touch and making sure you’re there for them. Merely knowing that someone genuinely cares and concerned 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 about Mental Health Month, or you or someone you know is struggling check out their 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: Dawid Zawilla