Are you OK? – a simple three-word question. But in today’s busy world, the gravity of these words can be impacting. Just how much could they change someone's life?
R U OK? Day marks a national day of action to encourage us all to notice the signs of mental health. First held in 2009, the day offers a reminder for Aussies to reach out and check in with others around them. But how can we keep these important conversations going well beyond this national day of action, as well as build resilience as a community amid rising mental health concerns?
We often need reminders to do things in our life. R U OK? Day offers us a great reminder to continue to pay attention to people in our networks, and take notice when things don’t seem right for them.
What to look out for
Perhaps it might be that someone’s care factor has decreased a bit and they're not as excited to do things that would normally light them up. Maybe someone is having trouble sleeping or has mentioned they are struggling with insomnia. You might know someone who is constantly forgetting things or feeling a little bit mentally wobbly. It is our job to notice when the people in our work, family and friend circles seem a little off track.
Why is RUOK? so hard to ask?
The power behind asking someone this short little question - are you OK? - is that it may feel like a quite loaded question. You may be frightened to ask this question because you don't think you’ve got the skills to deal with whatever the response may be.
Listen, not fix
This year's theme for RUOK? Day was ‘I’m here to hear’ - that means “I’m not here to fix you, all I’m here to do is listen to you”. Other than those that are mental health professionals, we don’t need to fix anyone’s problems. We just need to listen.
That saying, one of the problems with this simple little question is that it can produce very short responses. Instead, try posing more open-ended questions, where the person is prompted to say more than just yes or no. For example, you could say “you seem a little less sparkly than usual lately, what's been going on with you lately?”
We know that most people who are feeling mentally wobbly tend to retreat into themselves, which brings about a feeling of loneliness and not feeling supported by others. This makes it even harder to reach out to someone when you do want to talk as you may feel like there is no one around who understands or can help you. That is why it is so important for us to continue to pay attention to the signs of colleagues, family members and friends when they're not doing so well, so we can check-in and ask the right questions in more tactful ways when it’s appropriate and start putting these sorts of conversations in motion.
Create a Safe Environment
One of the most important steps when having these types of conversations is to ensure they happen in a very safe environment. If you are at work and you notice that your colleague is making errors (which is unusual for them) and may also be a little grumpier than normal, rather than asking them what’s the matter while surrounded by other people, instead suggest going and grabbing a coffee together and taking a gentle, authentic approach to asking the question so they know they can trust you with their answer.
We all have a part to play in each other's wellbeing and community support is so important when it comes to building personal resilience. A sense of belonging and feeling part of a community is a major factor in feeling happier, more secure, supported and hopeful. That is why, our workplaces have a unique opportunity to provide this environment.
This article originally featured on The Wire - R U OK: Building Lasting Conversations. Listen to Heidi's conversation with journalist Emma Wotze.