The second Thursday of September is R U OK? Day, a mental health initiative which encourages people to connect with others, lend support and address the issue of social isolation. The campaign also aims to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues and to be aware of those around us who may be struggling in silence.
Founded by Gavin Larkin in 2009 after the loss of his father to suicide, the R U OK? non-profit was established as a suicide prevention project, helping others who may be having a difficult time and normalising communication that positively impacts people’s mental wellbeing. This lead to the annual R U OK? Day, a yearly reminder to start a conversation with people who may be struggling with life. From its origins in Australia, the event has seen increasing participation from communities, schools, businesses and the mental health sector, helping ever more people at risk of or impacted by suicide, continuing the mission that a simple conversation could change a life.
It’s estimated that eight people take their lives each year in Australia and 89% of people know someone personally who has made a suicide attempt – alarming figures and cause for concern. Initiatives such as R U OK? are a great step forward for mental health and even though there is a day associated, there’s no reason that checking in on those we care for can’t be an everyday event.
How To Ask
It’s important to know that you don’t necessarily need to have a mental health qualification to ask if someone is okay – anyone can participate and make a difference. Identifying the signs that someone might be struggling can be challenging, as people will often put on a mask of normalcy as a coping mechanism. It’s safe to say that as we enter the third year of a pandemic, there is a good chance that many people might be struggling on some level, be it stress, anxiety, depression or loneliness. But before you look out for others, you need to make sure you are looking out for your own wellbeing. If you are currently struggling, or uncertain as to whether you are ready to help (or in the right headspace), perhaps consider a self-assessment:
- How are you feeling at present? Is anything impacting your mental health?
- Are you in a position to give someone your full attention and time?
- Do you accept that some people may not want to talk or share their feelings?
- And if they do want to speak, that you may not be able to ‘fix’ their problems?
If you feel that you are ready to reach out to someone, remember to be relaxed, open minded and actively listening. It’s also important to be genuine in your approach, as often people may feel burdened by their worries and may not want to open up due to fear of stigma or judgement.
- Ask if someone is okay.
- Listen with an open mind.
- Offer support and encourage action.
- Check in and see how they are doing.
What If Someone Says ‘No’
If the person you are speaking with doesn’t want to open up, that’s okay, we shouldn’t criticise them. Simply offer them the chance to speak at a later date, let them know you are there for them or even ask if there is someone else they’d prefer to speak to.
On the other hand, a ‘no’ might mean that they are not okay, and in need of some help and assistance. If this is the case, then it is important to encourage action, starting with asking why they are not okay and what they can (or have previously done) to help address similar problems in life. You could also offer up your own personal coping strategies or ask how you could better support them in their time of need. If you suspect they are facing a crisis, or their situation has not improved after checking in with them later on, it’s recommended that you suggest helping to put them in touch with a health care professional.
Where To Get Help If You’re Not OK
Remember, help is available wherever you are and for whatever is currently troubling you. Check with your local doctor for a referral to a mental health professional or consult the appropriate health process in your country for more help and assistance. There are also many comprehensive online and phone-based resources available across the world that can help you get back to living a better quality of life.
For immediate help, please consult with the following resources, and know that things will be okay.
Online & Telehealth Services:
- Global Hotlines
- Mental Health Hotline (US) – 866-903-3787
- Lifeline (New Zealand) – 0800 543 354
- Lifeline (Australia) – 13 11 14