How to start the conversation this R U OK? Day

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Suicide is a major public health issue that kills more than 3,000 Australians a year.

Suicide remains so significant, that young Australians are now more likely to take their own life than die in a motor vehicle accident.

Approximately 8 Australians end their lives every day. About 6 of these deaths are men, although the frequency for suicides by Australian females has recently started to increase.

It is a complex issue that requires both an individual and community response to improve it.

R U OK? Day

One way we can combat suicide and mental health issues are by having genuine conversations with our families, friends, colleagues and neighbours.

If we openly and authentically take the time to invest in others and truly listen to them, we will improve our ability to understand and support each other.

When we truly know a person, we have an opportunity to understand what’s challenging them, how they manage stress, and how they can be supported.

R U OK? Day is a reminder of the importance of meaningful connections and encourages everyone to start having honest conversations about how we are feeling.

Worried about someone?

Do you have a feeling that someone you know or care about isn’t feeling their best? Perhaps they are withdrawing from social situations? They seem distracted or angry? Or just not behaving how they usually are.

You don’t need any special training to show someone you care about them. Sometimes just being there and asking if they are okay can make all the difference.

The following steps can help you initiate the sometimes difficult conversation and ensure the person feels safe and supported.

Before you ask

You must be in the right head-space before starting a conversation. You need to look out for yourself before you can look out for others. You should be prepared for them to answer ‘no’ when you ask them if they are okay.

If you feel confident and ready to start the conversation, make sure you choose the right moment. Pick a private place and make sure you have enough time to chat properly.

Ask R U OK

Ask the direct question, R U OK? Be friendly and relaxed in your approach. Explain to them why you are asking, mention specific moments that have made you concerned.

Keep asking open-ended questions. Encourage the conversation by asking, “You seem down lately, how have things been?” or, “Tell me more about how you are feeling?”

If they don’t want to talk do not criticise them. Tell them you’re still concerned about them whilst reassuring them that you care, and you’ll always be around if they want to talk.


Listen without judgement. Take what they say seriously. Don’t interrupt but acknowledge what they are going through is tough.

Don’t try and fix the problems or make assumptions. If they need time to think, sit patiently in the silence.

Use nonverbal cues like eye contact, hand on their hand, nodding while they are talking. This helps the person feel listened to and cared for.

Repeat back in your own words what they have told you. This confirms that you are both on the same page and you understand what’s going on.


Ask them how they would like to be supported. Reassure them that you are here to help in any way you can. Ask them questions like, “What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?” “What is something that you can do now that is enjoyable and relaxing?” “How can we make your environment safe?”

Encourage them to seek a mental health professional. Seeing a mental health professional is a healthy step forward. Be positive about the role of professional health and assure them that getting help isn’t a sign of failure. Offer help to assist them in finding the right person to talk to.

Tell them they aren’t alone. Let them know that you are here for them in whatever capacity they feel comfortable with.


Follow up in a week or so, depending on how much they are struggling. Keep it casual, avoid badgering them so they don’t become overwhelmed.

Ask them what they have done to manage the situation. If they haven’t done anything, don’t judge them. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them manage.

Stay in contact. Continuous genuine care and concern can make a real difference and makes them feel supported. Even a simple text can go a long way.

Worried about yourself?

R U OK? Day is a great reminder to reflect on our own mental health. Take the time to think about how you’ve been feeling lately. Are you enjoying most things you do? Are you avoiding social interactions? Are you finding it hard to complete an everyday task? Are you finding life in general exhausting?

If you are worried about your mental health, one of the most important things to do is to reach out and tell someone. Choose someone who you feel comfortable with, a friend, family member or co-worker. It can sometimes be scary and daunting to admit you haven’t been feeling well. Remember your friends and family care, they want you to be happy and healthy.

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone you know there are many different support lines that you can talk or text with. They will listen and talk for however long you need. They will also help you decide what the next steps will be to get you through this tough time.

R U OK? Day is a great reminder to have the important conversations. But it is more than just a singular question to be asked once a year. Whether you are asking for help or reaching out to someone else, to make a real difference we need to be having honest and meaningful conversations regularly.

National support lines

  • Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
  • Kids Helpline (up to 25 years): 1800 551 800
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
  • Q-life LGBTQIA+: 1800 184 527
  • Lifeline Text (6pm-12am): 0477 131 114
  • GriefLine: 1300 845 745

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