RU OK Day 2017 – How one question could save someone’s life

“If you break your leg, you go to the doctor… but if you have depression or anxiety, we view the doctor as optional. Why don’t we value our mental health as much as our physical health?” – Anonymous

It’s one of the most important conversations you’ll ever have, but it can be one of the hardest to start: we’re talking about three little words that can make a difference to someone’s life – “Are you OK?”

Just asking this question in the workplace can encourage someone to open up when they otherwise would keep quiet about their mental state. In fact, checking in with someone by asking, “Are you okay?” in 2017 can make a positive difference to someone’s life.

Recent estimates suggest that 65,000 Australians make a suicide attempt in a 12-month period, with an average of 2,320 people dying by suicide1. This is why it is so important to discuss mental illness openly in the workplace and in social situations, and to let others know that they are not alone if they feel stressed or anxious. It’s alarming statistics like this that have led to the national RU OK? Day initiative.

What is RU OK Day?

RU OK?2 is a not-for-profit suicide prevention organisation founded by Gavin Larkin in 2009. Working collaboratively with leaders in suicide prevention and mental illness, RU OK? is a national community project held on September 14 that encourages everyone to check in with their employees, friends, and family. It’s about empowering every individual to start a conversation that could prevent suicide and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Why is mental health awareness in the workplace important?

Providing a healthy and safe workplace benefits the entire business, not just those who are struggling with mental illness. In the workplace, stress-related workers’ compensation has cost over $10 billion each year3 and a total of 3.2 days per worker annually are lost through workplace stress alone.

It’s important to recognise and openly promote mental health in order to create a safe and healthy workplace. Both managers and workers have an equal accountability in building a safe work environment for all. And by creating positive connections and relationships, you can significantly reduce feelings of depression, stress, and other mental illnesses.

There are several ways to address mental health at work, which include putting strategies into place and offering wellbeing training skills and courses. In many cases, these are long-term approaches. However, it’s never too late to start a conversation with your employees this RU OK? Day. Here’s how4:

  1. Ask “R U OK?” Do this with sincerity, looking the person in the eye, yet being relaxed and friendly. Help them to open up by mentioning specific things that you have noticed, such as, “You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?”
  2. Listen without judgement. Hear what they are saying and don’t interrupt or discount their feelings. They may need time to think, so sit patiently in silence. Encourage them to explain how long they have been feeling this way.
  3. Encourage action. Ask how they would like you to support them, and if you have been through a similar period, suggest, “When I was going through a difficult period, I tried this… you might find it useful, too.” Encourage them to see a health professional.
  4. Check-in. After having the conversation, put a reminder in your calendar to catch up with them in a couple of weeks. It’s important to stay in touch and to show genuine concern.

How to offer mental health support at work

The stigma around mental health is alive and well throughout workplaces in Australia, but you can help stop it by starting the conversation this national R U OK? Day.

Just remember to:

  • Provide a safe space in your workplace by encouraging an open and honest environment with no judgement.
  • Promote pathways or resources that encourage individuals to express if they are not feeling the best.
  • Make sure that management teams are supportive and committed to the workplace initiatives that you put into action. This encourages team members to get involved with the support of colleagues and supervisors.
  • Start the conversation yourself by checking in regularly with colleagues.

In the time it takes to have a coffee, you can change a life with just a simple question.

This Thursday 14 September 2017, make the time to reconnect and ask each other “Are you OK?”

If you need crisis support, call 1800 RUOKDAY.


If you need an educational way to engage your workforce and empower them to start the conversation, why not run mental health awareness training in your workplace? Bodycare can tailor a mental health and wellness seminar to the needs of your business. For more information, contact



Join us as we talk openly and honestly about mental health at Bodycare’s half day public course on Thursday 21 September or Thursday 23 November.

We’ll cover topics such as:

  • What is depression?
  • What is mental health?
  • Staying mentally healthy in the workplace
  • What is ‘good’ mental health?
  • The role of the workplace leader in driving a mentally healthy workplace

If you’re a team leader, manager, senior leader or HR professional, your attendance can make a positive impact in your workplace.

For more information about Bodycare’s half day course on ‘How to Start the Conversation’ or to register, click here.