Finding the right words to help someone you care about can be a worrying thought.
When you see someone in your life struggling, it’s only natural to ask them if they’re okay, but it can sometimes be difficult to know what to do next. The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert to support a friend.
The four steps of R U OK? Day
Genuine conversations with our families, friends, colleagues, and neighbours help us to take the next step towards combating suicide and mental health issues. When we take the time to openly and authentically invest in others, we let them know that they are heard and not alone.
R U OK? Day is a reminder for everyone to check in with their mates and have honest conversations about how we are feeling.
There’s no right or wrong way to go about the conversation, but asking, “Are you okay?” is a great place to start:
- Ask if they’re okay. Be relaxed and friendly in your approach. Explain to them why you are asking and mention specific moments that have made you concerned.
- Listen without judgement. Take what they say seriously, be patient, and don’t interrupt. The silence may seem awkward at first, but consider it time to think.
- Encourage action. Reassure them that you are here to help. Chat about what steps they have already taken and help them explore their options for how they can begin to feel better.
Asking isn’t always easy, but it’s important to remember that the conversation doesn’t end here. There’s more to say after R U OK?
Ongoing support is the most important thing you can offer to a person who is struggling. That’s where the final conversation step comes in: check-in.
I’ve asked, “Are you okay?”, listened, and supported. Now what?
R U OK? is more than just a singular question to be asked once a year. To make a real difference we need to be having honest and meaningful conversations regularly.
It’s an important message, and checking-in doesn’t have to be difficult or embarrassing.
- Set a reminder on your phone/diary to catch up with them again in a few weeks. Check-in sooner if you’re concerned.
- Ask if they have found a better way to manage the situation. If they haven’t, don’t judge them. Ask them if there is anything you could do to help.
- Genuinely care and be interested in their life; stay in touch with them.
There are many ways you can check-in with a friend and finding the right way for both of you can make all the difference.
Have regular coffee catchups
It doesn’t have to be coffee or even a meal. Whether it’s a walk in the park, a trip to the gym, taking the time each week (or fortnight, or month), to catch-up and chat about how you’re both doing can make all the difference.
“This made me think of you”
Continuous genuine care and concern can make a real difference and make someone feel supported. Even a simple text or an email with a link to an article, or photo, or meme can go a long way.
Share your passions
Talk about what’s keeping you busy and cheerful (watching Friends, baking, a new Pilates video series on YouTube), and listen to their own passions, ideas, and techniques. Talking about what you both love might help inspire each other to try something new, find common interests and passions in life, and reasons to check-in with each other and have a good laugh.
Keep asking, “Are you okay?”
Most importantly, keep asking how they’re feeling. There is no expiry date on having meaningful and honest conversations.
What if they don’t want to talk to me?
You’ve noticed someone who seems to be struggling. You ask, “Are you okay?” and they tell you not to worry about it. What happens now?
There are a million reasons why asking, “Are you okay?” mightn’t always go smoothly. No matter how prepared you are for the conversation, sometimes the other person just mightn’t be ready to talk to you. That’s the most important thing about asking, “Are you okay?” – it’s a conversation between two people.
Try not to take it personally if someone you’re worried about brushes you off. It may be frustrating, but it’s important to understand that seeking help can be a tough decision to make. Sometimes people don’t want to talk about how they feel, they’re too embarrassed, they might be confused by their own feelings, or they don’t believe talking can help.
So, what do you do if you’ve voiced your concerns, but your loved one or colleague chooses not to seek help?
Talk about life
Focus on the things they’re comfortable talking about like, “I know you’ve had trouble sleeping and concentrating lately. Can we talk about that?”
Don’t make your friendship conditional on them seeking support. If you avoid your friend because you’re frustrated, it’s likely to make them feel more isolated. Continue to be supportive, talk about life, and listen when they’re ready to talk.
Do a bit of research into what help is available in your area. What services do you think could be useful to your friend? How can you better support them in your day-to-day life? This way, you’ll be ready to give some direction when they are ready to seek help.
Is there someone else better placed to have this conversation? Suggest they talk to someone they trust, like a family member, friend, or confidential hotline. You could say, “If you ever want to chat, I’m always here. But is there someone else you’d rather talk to?”
Be patient and be present
It may take many conversations for someone to process what you’re saying and respond. Without pressuring, stay present, consistent, and connected in their life. Be ready for when they’re ready to open up.
If you believe they’re planning to harm themselves or are in immediate danger, call 000 immediately. This may be scary. But not doing anything is scarier.
If you can, stay with them. Do not leave them alone (unless you’re concerned about your own safety).
How can your workplace be more supportive?
When you live, work, and socialise so closely alongside someone, it’s easy to see how workplaces are uniquely suited to first spotting the changes that indicate someone might be struggling.
Having regular, meaningful conversations amongst colleagues in the workplace is just the start.
Here at EPIC Assist, we’re dedicated to creating workplace environments where everyone feels safe and supported. Some of the supportive initiatives that we implement, and your workplace can too, include:
- fortnightly one-on-one catchups between staff and their manager
- an employee assistance program that offers all employees and their families confidential counselling to support their health and wellbeing
- mental health in the workplace training for all our staff and volunteers.
EPIC Assist helps people with mental health conditions, disability, injury, and other health conditions find and maintain meaningful work. If you think you could benefit from our support, get in touch with us today.
National support lines
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 497
- 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