How to ask R U OK? all year round: It’s time we honestly answered, ‘How are you?’

Monday, 22 August 2022

When was the last time someone asked you, ‘How are you?’

Probably this morning when you walked in the door at work. Maybe last night when you picked the kids up from daycare or the grandparents’ place. Or perhaps even a couple of minutes ago when you picked up a phone call from your bank, utilities, or landlord.

Now, when was the last time you answered with something other than, ‘Good, thanks’?

It’s one of those unwritten rules everyone seems to live by. When someone asks, you’re expected to respond with, ‘Good. And you?’

But sometimes things aren’t so good and that’s okay, too.

R U OK? Day is one day each year dedicated to inspiring people to have honest and meaningful conversations with others.

Genuine conversations with our families, friends, colleagues, and neighbours help us take the next step towards combating suicide and mental health issues. When we take the time to openly and genuinely invest in others, we let them know they are heard and not alone.

But asking, ‘Are you okay?’ is more than a single question for one day each year. Whether you are reaching out to someone you know or asking for help yourself, to make a real difference we need to have honest and meaningful conversations regularly.

And that starts with honestly answering, ‘How are you today?’

How to ask R U OK? all year round

There are many different ways to ask, ‘Are you okay?’ all year round. But what do these conversations look like?

You don’t need to be a qualified professional to check in on a mate, family member, colleague, or person in your life who may be experiencing a tough time. Starting a conversation is as simple as creating safe spaces where when someone asks, ‘How are you?’ it’s okay to respond honestly.

The first step to creating these spaces is leading by example. If you are open, honest, and vulnerable about your mental health, it creates an environment where other people can be, too.

To get you started, here are three thoughtful ways to answer the question, ‘How are you going?’

Start small

It can be awkward and confronting at first to open up about your mental health. But there are many small, everyday things you can talk about to get the conversation started.

When honestly answering, ‘How is it going?’ you don’t need to share your complete life history. Every day, there are a number of mundane things that may influence our mental health: sleep, stress, screaming children, assignments, traffic, mess.

Almost everyone occasionally struggles with at least one of these tasks, and that’s okay. When we choose to share our anxieties and be open to those of others, we take steps to ensure no one is suffering alone in silence.

So, how do I get started?

‘How are you today?’

A response as simple as, ‘I’m a little tired today. I didn’t sleep great. How about you?’ is a great starting point. Not only are you honestly sharing how you feel, you’re opening up the floor for the other person to know it’s okay to be honest about their mental health; this is a safe space.

Small, everyday ways to say you’re not 100% okay, and that’s okay:

  • “I’ve had a crazy week, but I’m hanging in there.”
  • “A little tired. I didn’t sleep great. How about you?”
  • “I missed my bus this morning, so I’m a little worked up. But I’ll be better after a drink of water.”
  • “A little stressed. I have two assignments due this week.”
  • “Busy! It’s a bit of a hectic month.”

When things are good, share it!

Being honest means sharing both sides of the coin.

Mental health is not a linear journey. There are ups and downs, good days and bad days.

Rather than just answering generically with, ‘I’m good,’ how about opening up the conversation and sharing something specific you can bond over?

When you take the time to have genuine and meaningful conversations, you let someone into your life and show them that they are important to you. Try to always round out the conversation by getting the other person involved, too.

Thoughtful ways to say things are going good:

  • “I’m feeling positive. I just had a great session with my therapist.”
  • “Things are good. I’m loving this warm weather. Maybe I’ll go for a swim this afternoon.”
  • “I’m having a great day: I slept well, finished a great book this morning, and now I’m chatting with you!”
  • “I’m looking forward to the weekend. I’m going on a hike with my sister.”
  • “Great! I saw the funniest meme last night and it made me think of you. Let me show you…”
  • “I just finished the newest season of Stranger Things. It was epic! Have you seen it?”

Get vulnerable

Our conversations with close friends and family are naturally going to be different from those with acquaintances or perhaps colleagues.

If you want to be seen as a community leader who always has an open ear, it’s important to follow your own advice.

When your mental health is not quite up to scratch, take a moment to reach out to those around you, particularly those close connections.

Sharing you’re not okay can be quite daunting. When you open up in your time of need, you show it’s okay to not be okay and normalise reaching out for help.

There are likely many people around you who need that kind of support. Maybe next time when someone’s in need, they will be willing to seek counsel and follow your lead.

Genuine ways to say you’re not okay and reach out:

  • “Not great, but thanks for asking.”
  • “It’s been rough this week.”
  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed at the moment. It’s good to talk with you about it.”
  • “Thank you for taking the time to ask. I appreciate that. I don’t think I am okay and I’d like to talk more”
  • “Thank you for taking the time to ask. I’m not doing so great. I have an appointment with my therapist tomorrow to talk some more. But it’s helpful to know you’re thinking of me. Would you like to grab a coffee?”

Change the way you ask, ‘How are you?’

‘How are you?’ has become a very blasé question. Most people treat it as a throw-away greeting or pleasantry, rather than a conversation starter.

To encourage more meaningful and genuine conversations on a daily basis, consider rephrasing the, ‘How are you?’ question. This is a simple and easy way to shake up the stock-standard dialogue, show that you care, and encourage people to open up with more honest answers.

Be sure to always listen to their answer. Respond thoughtfully to show them what they’re saying is important and that you’re invested in this conversation. Remember to check in with them afterwards if they’re not okay because there’s always more to say after, ‘Are you okay?’

Different and genuine ways to say, ‘How are you?’

  • “How have things been recently?”
  • “What’s on your mind right now?”
  • “What are you doing today?”
  • “How was [e.g., pilates, running, band practice, netball] yesterday?”
  • “How are you taking care of yourself these days?”
  • “What are you watching/reading?”
  • “Do you want to grab a coffee later?”
  • “Did anything make you smile today?”
  • “What’s one thing you’re looking forward to?”
  • “Is there anything you need right now?”
  • “What’s something you enjoyed recently?”
  • “Did you do anything nice for yourself this weekend?”

R U OK? Day is Thursday 8 September 2022

This R U OK? Day, we’re reminding people that you don’t need to be an expert to have an R U OK? conversation. Listening and giving someone your time might be just what they need.

Even though R U OK? Day 2022 is Thursday 8 September, it’s important to remember every day is an opportunity to check in with those around you, thoughtfully ask, ‘How are you?’, and start a conversation.

Because a conversation could change a life.

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

Related articles