R U OK? Day: Your chance to make a difference

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In this day and age, almost all of us know someone who is suffering from some kind of mental illness – be it depression, anxiety, bipolar etc. We all want to help those people in our lives who are suffering with their mental health, but sometimes we don’t know how to ask if they are okay, let alone know how to help them. But there is a chance for you to learn how to make a real difference in the life of someone who may be struggling.

Thursday 13th September is national R U OK? Day, a chance for people across Australia to educate themselves on how to open up and have difficult conversations about mental health, a chance to learn how to support someone who is struggling and how to point them in the right direction to get the help that they need.

Why we need R U OK? Day

It’s not always easy to ask people about their mental health, but it could be one of the most important conversation you ever have. A lack of connection with others can be a major factor that contributes to people experiencing depressive feelings Research shows that 57 percent of Australians want to be asked the question, “Are you OK?”

Because of the alarming statistics around mental health, the suicide prevention charity R U OK? started running a national awareness day each year, this year it falls on Thursday 13th September. R U OK? Day reminds us all to reach out to others and ask them how they are doing, so that they don’t feel isolated and alone.

The R U Ok charity wants to create a world where meaningful connections between family, friends, co-workers etc. can help to prevent deaths by suicide. To achieve this, it wants to empower us all so that we feel comfortable and confident when asking others how they are feeling and giving support to friends and loved ones who may be struggling with their mental health – without them having to even ask.

Workplaces, schools and communities can all get involved. It’s as simple as opening up the conversation about mental health and suicide, and helping to end the stigma that causes many people discomfort when it comes to talking about how they are truly feeling. Dissolving these barriers will encourage more people who are struggling with mental health to not only get the help they need, but also reassuring them that is in fact okay to not be okay.

When should you ask someone if they are OK?

If someone you know seems sad, agitated or withdrawn, or they are behaving in ways which appear to be out of character, they may be struggling with their mental health or, in extreme cases, having suicidal feelings. If you are worried about someone, it is better to follow your gut instincts and ask them how they are rather than to ignore the signs and leave them to deal with their problems alone.

The importance of letting someone who is struggling know that they are not alone cannot be stressed enough.

Simply starting a conversation like this could be the vital step that encourages a friend, family member or work colleague to speak about their problems – big or small.

If you want to help someone, be sure to make enough time to have a deep conversation with them. You also need to feel ready to support them – you have to be prepared for them to say that they are struggling and to open up about things that may be hard to hear. It might not be an easy conversation and if  you do not feel ready for this, or you are not sure you are the right person to help them, try to think of someone else that they trust who could have this conversation with them.

It is extremely important that somebody asks them how they are, even if you feel you are not the right person to do this.

How to ask someone how they are:

R U OK? recommends four steps to help someone struggling with their mental health:

1. Ask

If you are ready to have the conversation, you need to approach it in the right way. Be relaxed and friendly, but let the person know you are concerned. Tell them you have noticed they seem out of sorts and ask if they are all right.

Remember, they might not be ready to open up. Do not push them or criticise them, just let them know you are there if they ever want to chat or ask if there is someone else they would rather speak to.

2. Listen

If they decide they want to talk to you, listen without judging them and take them seriously. Do not interrupt or rush them. Instead, encourage them to tell you how they are feeling and really listen to what they have to say.

Let them know you are supportive and that you care about what they are saying.

3. Encourage action

Ask them if there is anything you can do to help or support them, or anything they can do themselves to feel better.

If you feel they are at risk, or they have been feeling low for more than two weeks, suggest that they could see a health professional. Encourage them to see this as a positive step.

4. Check in

Remember to check on them regularly after your conversation. Let them know you have been thinking of them and ask how they are.

Being there for them and letting them know you care can make all the difference to someone who is struggling with their mental health.

Get involved with R U OK? Day – I think we can get rid of this section all together

If your business would like to get involved with R U OK? Day, there are resources available from R U OK? that will help you. We are also happy to help – please contact us if you would like more information and advice on encouraging conversations about mental health in the workplace.

Together we can create meaningful connections which can change lives.