Work colleagues talking on RUOK day

Don’t just ask a question
on R U OK? Day

  • R U Ok? Day is about checking in with people to see how they’re going.
  • Sincerity needs to be at the heart of any R U Ok? Day conversation. Don’t ask someone how they’re going if you’re not able to listen and talk it through.
  • Just as important as asking the question is knowing what to do next. That means listening, encouraging action, and checking in again.

 


If you’re familiar with R U Ok? Day you’ll know that it and days like it have contributed significantly to helping reduce the stigma of mental health.

In other words, R U Ok? Day and the many events like it help promote the message that mental health concerns are quite widespread and that talking about worries and stresses isn’t just ok — it’s actually healthy and beneficial.

R U Ok Day encourages us to check up on each other by asking each other how we’re going. However, while asking the question is essential, knowing what to do next is equally important.

 

Would you know what to do next?

Most of us not are not trained mental health professionals. In fact, many of us probably don’t listen to those closest to us as well as we’d like to, let alone have the professional qualifications and skills to help someone who is struggling with a mental health concern.

So imagine if you asked someone how they were doing on R U Ok Day and they responded that, actually, the pressure’s really getting to them. What if they said they’re struggling because they weren’t coping with some relationship troubles? What would you do if someone confided in you that they’d been thinking about suicide?

Would you know how to respond?

 

Having a mental health conversation

The official R U OK? Day page provides guidelines on not only how to ask someone how they’re going, but also on how to respond and take action. Below are some important things to remember.

 

When you ask

At the heart of a productive conversation is sincere intent. If you’re not in a good headspace (you’re stressed or under pressure), don’t have time (you’ve got looming deadlines or kids to collect), or it’s not the right place or moment (you’re in front of a bunch of strangers in the lunch room), then hold off on the conversation.

It’s much better to wait until you’re able to commit to what may be a very important conversation.

 

When you listen

Once you’ve asked someone where they’re at, be prepared to follow through regardless of the response. If the person indicates that things aren’t right, then make sure you’re prepared to listen.

A person’s response to being asked if they’re ok may vary. Some may be direct about it and indicate what’s troubling them. For others, though, it may not be so easy or straightforward. Indeed, the very fact that so many people find it difficult to discuss their concerns is a major reason for the existence of R U OK Day. They may convey to you in some way that something isn’t right (such as through slouching body language, dejected facial expressions, etc.) but may need some time to think about it, or need some gentle encouragement to explain.

It may even be that they are not fully aware of the underlying concern (such as anxiety or depression) and are instead concerned about the symptoms (lack of sleep, irritability, excessive stimulant consumption, binge eating, etc.).

Effective communication is as much about listening as it is about saying the right things. So be sure to listen without judging, don’t rush them, and ask questions.

 

When you encourage action

This could be the most challenging part of the conversation: what to do next after someone tells you they’re struggling?

R U OK? Day is about encouraging others with questions like:

  • “What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?”
  • “How would you like me to support you?”
  • “What’s something you can do for yourself right now that’s enjoyable or relaxing?”

Notice that these are what are termed “open” questions. That means they are questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” answer. Instead they require a ‘long’ response.

As mentioned, most of us are not mental health professionals and you should not have to assume responsibility all on your own. If someone’s been feeling low for two or more weeks, encourage them to get support from a professional.

One good way to begin that conversation is by seeing their GP. However, some people may not feel ‘ready’ to see their doctor about their mental health. If that’s the case, then a conversation with an NQ Connect professional counsellor is another way to start.

NQ Connect is available 24/7 and provides free professional counselling to people in northern Queensland. It is staffed entirely by professional counsellors (there are no volunteers) who are trained to listen and help people identify ways to manage and cope with their stresses and worries.

 

When you check in later

If mental health was easy to deal with, we wouldn’t be observing days like R U OK? Day. The fact is, stresses and worries that affect our wellbeing can be tough. Some days can be better than others — which is why it’s important to check in with people who are struggling.

Consider putting a reminder in your phone and when it’s time, tell the person outright that you were wondering how they were going. If it’s appropriate, ask how they’ve been managing the situation. As always, it’s important not to judge someone if they haven’t gotten around to getting help or taking action. Their outlook may have improved since you last spoke or they may need more time (or even a little more encouragement) to get the support they need.

It may even be that they just needed someone to talk to about their worries. The fact that they know someone was there for them and had their back can make a huge difference to their outlook.

 

Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.