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Asking 'R U OK'? And what needs to happen afterwards

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a really rough year and now more than ever, making sure the people around you are coping okay is so important. R U OK? Day provides an opportunity to think about people in your life who seem quiet, are being distant, who have been flat, or just seem ‘off’, and to ask these people how they are going.

This is easier said than done, so the following steps and conversation prompts, provided on R U OK?’s website, might help guide your conversation.

1. Asking R U OK?

Asking 'R U OK'? is a challenging conversation to have, but having it with someone that might be struggling is so important. Finding the right time and place is essential to help someone open up and share any problems they are having.

Firstly, making sure that you have set aside enough time to have the conversation without feeling rushed, which ensures that you have time to hear the person out and have the time to find out how they might be able to find help. Ensuring, to the best of your abilities, that you will not be disturbed, putting your phone and other devices on silent, shows the person that you are listening, making them more likely to open up.

Finding the right method of communication to have this conversation is more challenging during this time but a little extra consideration of a way that will make them feel most comfortable is important. Ideas that could be used for people that you don’t live with include video calls, messaging or going for a walk with them. Remembering that this is a difficult conversation, privacy is important and will allow someone to show emotion.

Going into a conversation with someone you think might be struggling, one of the most important things you can do is make sure you’re ready to have it. Being prepared for the difficult issues that may be raised is essential and it is also important to remember that someone may not be ready to or want to talk. In this case, simply offering your support and highlighting that you’re always here if they decide to talk is all you can do even if you want to help more. If they do choose to open up, it can be confronting and remembering that you cannot solve or ‘fix’ their issues will help you to deal with the emotions that may come out of one of these conversations. Coming prepared with ideas that may assist them or a list of support services can allow you to help them find a professional that can work with them to help.

2. Listening

Once you have decided that you need to ask 'R U OK'? and have found the best way to, the next step is to prepare yourself for the actual conversation.

Starting the conversation with those things that you're concerned about, things such as ‘I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately..’ and ‘I’ve noticed that you have been..’ or simply ‘How have you been going?’ gives space for them to open up. Making sure that you are clear that you are asking because you’re concerned about them will make them feel supported rather than criticised. Allowing some silence will give them space to think and talk when they are ready rather than feeling pressured or rushed.

Responding with an open mind and repeating what they say in your own words, helps you understand and show them that you are listening to what they are saying. Encouraging them to continue talking is important as they are more likely to open up if they feel supported. They may become emotional and upset during the conversation and it is important that you give them space to do so, don’t take it personally.

Remembering that you’re not there to solve the problem, just listening to any issues is enough to begin the conversation and begin the process of getting help. This may also mean encouraging them to talk to someone else, like a family member if they are not comfortable talking to you.

3. Encourage Action

If someone is struggling, speaking about it is the first step, but it is important to then direct them to get help or do things that will help them.

This step is where the change and action can be encouraged, so it’s a very important one.

There are a number of things that you can say to encourage action:

“What do you think is a good first step that would help you through this?”

“What can I do to help you?”

“When I went through something similar, talking to a professional really helped me out. Would you like me to help you book an appointment?”

“Do you think it would help for you to talk to someone else about some of these things? Maybe a health professional?”

Asking the above questions can assist in finding the right help and guiding the person to get help themselves. Try to make a mental note of what actions the person comes up with, so you can follow this up afterwards.

4. Check in

Make sure you follow up with a check-in a couple of days after you have a conversation with someone. This is a good opportunity to see if they have found a better way of managing their situation, and if they haven’t sought help yet, encourage them again to do so.

At the same time, it’s important to understand that sometimes it can take someone a long time to be ready to seek professional help. In this situation, remind them that getting professional help doesn’t have to look like seeing their doctor, which can sometimes be a big step. Remind them that there are online web chat services that can help like Beyond Blue, where they can talk to someone over messages, which can be less daunting than face-to-face or over-the-phone.

5. Managing your own mental health during this time

It’s really important to ask people around you if they are okay. However, sometimes it can be emotionally difficult to listen to and support other people without taking on their stress.

When you prepare to have conversations with people about their mental health, make sure you have the emotional capacity to help and support them if they need it.

Remember that there are services available to you to help you if you do begin to struggle. We suggest to have a look at R U OK?’s website for a list of support services.

The importance of just checking in with people at this time, regardless of whether they are showing signs of struggling, cannot be higher. Simply picking up the phone to call a family member or sending a message to a friend to check in and let them know you’re thinking of them goes a long way in making someone else’s day more positive during a difficult time.

Also, remember to make sure to check in with yourself and how this time has impacted you and your mental health, and seek support where necessary - a list of these support services can be found on R U OK?’s website:

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