Life knocks us all down from time to time. A stressful job, loss of a loved one, a relationship breaking down, exams, studying, illness, deadlines, falling short of our goals; there are many factors that can cause unrest, feelings of negativity, anxiety or depression in our lives.
Mental health is something we are all aware of but it’s not always the easiest subject to talk about. Suicide prevention charity R U OK? was founded on that very basis, recognising that if we could read the signs that someone may not be OK and have the confidence to ask them about it, then it might just change or even save a life.
Whether it’s a friend, co-worker or family member you’re worried about, the four simple steps to starting a conversation are the same:
Asking someone if they’re OK may sound simple enough but the reality is it’s a tough personal question that can be difficult to ask. First think about your environment. Asking someone in a busy public place will likely make them feel uncomfortable, so pick a moment when you’re in a quiet, relaxed space. Try and be friendly in your approach. Ask them how they’re doing and mention specific things that have caused you to worry about them. It could be that they’re less chatty lately, that they’re not turning up at the gym or seem uninterested in their favourite activities. It’s quite common for people to push back if they don’t want to talk, and that’s OK. Be careful not to turn your discussion into a confrontation and try to reassure them you’re always there if they want to speak. You could also ask if there is someone else they’d rather speak to.
This is perhaps the most important step to making a difference, and one of the hardest, so take what they’re saying seriously and don’t rush or interrupt them. Empathising and acknowledging what the person is going through without judgement and waiting patiently through any silences is important to help them speak openly. Asking supportive questions like, ‘how are you feeling about that?’ will encourage them to explain. Finally, be sure you’ve understood them. You can repeat back what they’ve said in your own words to show you have listened.
3. Encourage action
There is a fine line between encouraging action and telling a person what to do. It’s important to ask them how they’d best like to be supported. Ask questions like: ‘What have you done before to manage these feelings?’ or ‘what is something you can do for yourself right now to feel more relaxed?’ If you can relate, perhaps mention something you tried to feel better as it may prove useful to them too, but don’t pressure the person to do the same. If they’ve been feeling down for a while, you could suggest they seek help and guidance from a health professional and offer to assist them in taking that step. Try to be very positive about this as seeking this kind of help can seem daunting.
4. Check in
Once you’ve taken the first step in starting a conversation and encouraging action, it’s important to check in once in a while to let that person know you’re there. You could set a reminder on your phone to catch up over a coffee or give them a call to check in. Ask them how they’ve been getting on and if they’ve found a way to manage the situation. They may not have done anything at all, and it is key to remain supportive and not get frustrated with them in this case. Continuing to provide support and most importantly a listening ear will help them to open up and take action in their own time. Stay in touch, your care and concern can make a real difference.
For further information and resources visit www.ruok.org.au.
If you know someone who is struggling, or you are facing difficulties yourself, you can reach out to any one of these charities for help and advice:
• R U OK?
• Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14
• Black Dog Institute
• Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
• GriefLine - 1300 845 745
• Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800