R U OK? How to know the signs and what to do if someone’s not OK.

11 September 2019

R U OK? How to know the signs and what to do if someone’s not OK.

In the time it takes to have a cup of coffee, you can have a conversation that could change a life

– Gavin Larkin  (1968 – 2011)


R U OK? Day

R U OK? Day is Australia’s national day dedicated to starting the conversation ‘R U OK?’. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of this question throughout the whole year.

The movement started in 2009 in honour of late founder Gavin Larkin’s father, Barry, who died of suicide in 1995. Gavin sadly passed away from cancer in 2011, but his goal to equip people with the knowledge of how to support people who might be struggling with life lives on.


Trust the Signs, Trust your Gut & Ask R U OK?

This year’s R U OK? Day theme is “Trust the Signs, Trust your Gut and Ask R U OK?”. This theme came about as a result of R U OK’s 2019 survey, which revealed that 63% of Australians aren’t confident they know the signs that someone might be struggling with life. BUT, the survey also showed that 1 in 2 people believe they’d be more confident starting a conversation if they knew the signs.


A conversation could change a life

The fact is, you don’t have to be an expert to ask somebody “Are you OK?”. Every conversation can make a difference and make people who may be struggling feel connected and supported. It’s important to remember this question is not just a once a year thing – it should be in our minds regularly.

Find an appropriate time and place to ask the question and be sure to be in the right headspace yourself when you do broach the subject. Also, remember that people may not want to talk and that’s okay, so be sure to keep checking in or ask them how they would like you to support them.


What are the signs?

R U OK has put together three key categories of signs that someone may be experiencing mental ill-health. These are:

  • Verbal indicators – What are they saying?

Listen to the words and language they are using – are they confused, irrational or moody? Perhaps they are indicating they are lonely, down or in pain.


  • Non-verbal indicators – What are they doing?

Observe their behaviour. Have they become withdrawn or lost interest in things they used to like? Have they changed their behaviour including sleep patterns and interest in appearance or personal hygiene?


  • Life events that could cause increased pressure – What’s going on in their life?

Think about what’s happening in their life that could contribute to them having a hard time. Events such as issues with health, work, relationships or finances could be affecting them.

If someone is showing any of these signs, then it’s probably a good time to ask how they’re feeling. And if they aren’t showing any signs, you can still be a great mate and ask anyway!


Once you ask, it’s time to listen

Be there for them and be prepared that the conversation could go down many different paths – and maybe even a few paths all rolled up into one conversation. You may laugh together, you may cry together, or you may just sit in silence together. The main thing is that you’re there for them and that they feel supported and heard.


What if someone isn’t OK?

Remember, you won’t have all the answers, and no one expects you to. The main thing to remember is to be there for support when the person needs it, and to refer them to the people and resources that can help them.

Listening and encouraging action is key when supporting someone that isn’t ok. Ask what you can do to help, what would be a good first step to take together, and where to go from here as a team. Next steps might be encouraging them to talk to a trusted friend or family member or going to see a doctor or appropriate health professional.


Help is available

In an emergency, please call 000.

If you or someone you love is struggling with mental ill-health there are a number of organisations that can help.

  • Call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 to talk to someone anytime. The staff there specialise in crisis support and suicide prevention. Visit https://www.lifeline.org.au/ for more information.
  • Call the 24/7 Suicide Call-Back Service on 1300 659 467 for people at risk of suicide, their carers and bereaved.
  • Beyond Blue and Black Dog Institute offer some great resources on dealing with mental ill-health. Whether you are suffering yourself, or love someone who is, they have information to help you in your journey.


Don’t forget to check in

Remember, R U OK? needn’t be a once a year conversation. Be sure to check back in to see how they’re going after you’ve asked the question and had a chat. Keep the conversation going in the best way that suits you both.


For more information about R U OK? Day or to get involved in events visit https://www.ruok.org.au/.


With big thanks to R U OK for providing a wealth of information and resources that contributed to this post.

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