Starting a conversation with three simple words “Are you okay?” could change someone’s life and R U OK? Day is just one opportunity for us all to take the time to ask someone who may be struggling.
By taking the time to have meaningful conversations about the ups and downs of life, you could make a difference and help someone feel connected.
You may feel like something is not quite right with someone you know or care about. They may not be behaving as they normally would or they may be doing or saying things out of character.
There are many indications that someone may not be coping. Actions you can take to identify this may include:
These are all possible signs someone may be struggling with life and asking, “Are you okay?” is a great place to start helping.
Before asking, you need to consider whether you’re in a good headspace, you can give them as much time as needed and you’re willing to genuinely listen.
It’s important to select an appropriate time and place to have a conversation to ensure that it is at a time that suits them and that you have privacy.
When preparing to have a conversation with someone, it’s also important to be prepared for the answer to be, “No, I’m not ok.”
Conversely, you also need to be accepting that they might not be ready to talk or they may not wish to talk to you.
Often people don’t feel comfortable asking “are you okay?” because they don’t know the signs of when to ask or don’t know what to say.
It is more important to be respectful, genuinely caring and treat the person with dignity than saying “all the right things”. 3,4
When speaking with them ask open-ended questions such as “how are you going?” and when discussing your concerns, mention specific observations about their behaviour.
If they choose to talk to you:
Let them know you care about them and are concerned for them but avoid using guilt or criticising them.
Explore the possibility of them talking with someone else instead.
If they still don’t wish to talk to anyone, let them know that if they change their mind in the future about talking, they can contact you.
If someone says they are not okay, be supportive, compassionate and empathetic.
Being supportive can include many things such as; providing information about the help that is available, offering them practical help with daily activities or by simply asking them how they would like to be helped.
One of the symptoms when someone is struggling can be a sense of hopelessness, so it can be helpful to let them know that with time and treatment, they can start to feel better.
Many people who are struggling don’t seek professional help and those that do, often take many years to get help. This can potentially affect long-term recovery, so if they have been feeling this way for more than a few weeks, seeking professional help is encouraged.5,6
People are more likely to seek professional help if someone close to them suggests it so ask them if they have considered professional help and if they would like some information.7,8 You can let them know about the options for support and help that are available and help them seek assistance if they would like it.
After having the initial conversation with someone, it is important to follow-up regularly with them. Check-in on them from time-to-time to see how they are coping and encourage them to continue seeking help.
It is important to be consistent and predictable with your interactions with them. You can also encourage them to explore other supports like self-help strategies or support groups.
Mindfulness is one useful self-help strategy that has been found to have benefits for mental health wellbeing and help people cope with stress or anxiety.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present and learning to keep your attention where you want it to be whilst stepping back from strong emotional reactions and seeing things more objectively.
This typically involves practising meditation on a daily basis and just like meditation, the more you practice it, the better you will be at it.
Smiling Mind is an Australian mindfulness app with many different guided sessions to choose from and can suit the beginner or those who have been practicing mindfulness for some time now.
Whilst mindfulness can be a great way for people to help cope, it is still recommended they consult with their health professional for appropriate help.