Today we acknowledge as R U OK? Day here in Australia. It’s about encouraging those often difficult conversations around our mental health and to make sure we check in with the ones we care about.
We spoke with HenderCare psychologist, Branka Radovanovic, about the impact of such a simple question and how to ensure we continue the conversation into the future.
A simple question designed to initiate a conversation with friends and colleagues that might not be coping well; the R U OK? day campaign has helped to de-stigmatise mental health difficulties and encourages us to start a conversation about mental health to reduce our country’s suicide rate.
At a time when so many people are not feeling OK (the coronavirus pandemic, bushfires, floods, droughts, and an increasingly demanding daily life) asking R U OK is more important than ever before. Humans thrive on connection; however, we have been forced to physically distance ourselves while we tune in to the news and media which is flooding us with negative stories and imagery. Now more than ever as a community, we must stay meaningfully connected to be able to support one another, and the best way to do this is to start a conversation with anyone who may be struggling.
Starting the conversation can feel uncomfortable – but remember you don’t need to be an expert, just a good friend and an even better listener. If you have thoughts such as “What if I say the wrong thing? What if they get angry or upset with me? What if they just tell me to mind my own business?” take a deep breath and remind yourself that these are normal fears and that starting a conversation might make a huge difference to someone’s life and wellbeing.
Try these 4 simple steps that could change a life!
1. Ask the person R U OK?
2. Listen, listen and listen some more – don’t jump in with solutions instead say things like “it sounds like you’re having a really rough time… I’m here for you”
3. Encourage, empower and support action – offer the person your support, ask “what can I do to help you get through this?” or “How would you like me to support you?” You may like to ask the person to do something with you like cook dinner together or go for a walk.
4. Check in with the person to see how they are going, let them know you are always available to talk and remind them that professional help is available
As a psychologist I often get asked how someone can approach the question of suicide, a good way to do this is to say, “I just want to check in to see if you’re thinking of hurting yourself?” Don’t worry about putting this idea into someone’s head, asking can actually be a relief and it’s important to keep the conversation open about this. If the person admits to having suicidal thoughts, the key is not to panic but to keep the conversation flowing so you’re able to gather more information. Encourage the person to seek professional help and if you are worried about their safety let someone know, even if they have asked you not to.
R U OK? In the workplace:
At work it is also vitally important that we create a culture in which we feel confident talking about our mental health. Talking openly about mental health fosters a culture of acceptance and allows space for support. R U OK should be the start of a conversation not just on R U OK day but every day of the year!
If you have noticed changes in a colleague or your gut instinct is telling you something’s not right, ask them to grab a coffee away from distractions or find a private spot and start the conversation to see how they are going. If they’re not ok, listen, don’t judge, and encourage them to connect with appropriate support.
For more information on R U OK? Day, check out their website here. Additionally, if you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek assistance by contacting your trusted healthcare professional or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others, seek immediate assistance by calling Triple Zero (000).