Taking the time to have a break and check in with someone can have more of an impact than you might think.
When someone replies with the phrase, “I’m fine,” when asked how they are, it’s undoubtedly one of the biggest lies ever spoken.
So, let’s be honest. How many times have you said, “I’m fine,” when you really weren’t? A few? Quite often? Too many times to count? Well, you’re not alone.
Most of us suck at asking for help, whether we want to admit it or not. Asking for help with our mental health is a whole other level of nope that it’s easier to just say, “I’m fine, everything’s just peachy, thanks for asking.”
R U OK? Day aims to change this narrative by encouraging discussion, awareness and action around mental health and suicide prevention.
Launched in 2009 by founder Gavin Larkin, this not-for-profit organisation aims to inspire and empower everyone by establishing the notion of ‘staying connected and together’ and supporting those struggling in life. Making sure that no one endures the grief that Larkin experienced after the passing of his father by suicide, each year on September 13, the charity asks communities, businesses and individuals to engage in meaningful conversations and regularly ask a question we often avoid: are you okay?
While inspiring all people of all backgrounds to regularly ask each other the question, year’s theme is around “Are they really ok? Ask them today” to encourage all Australians to think about how the people in their world are truly going, looking beyond the reactive responses ‘I’m fine’ and ‘Good thanks’.
“It’s not uncommon for people to ask the question and receive a simple reply like ‘I’m fine, I’m okay, but sometimes you can see, or you have a feeling, that they’re not really fine,” explains Beyond Blue and R U OK? Day advocate Tony McManus.
“You just need to keep prodding away. You might leave it for a day or so, or you might ask the question a different way. I would much prefer to rattle someone’s cage with the question than write their eulogy. It’s as serious as that.”
With a passion for mental health solutions through social connection, Tony tragically lost his brother Mick to suicide in 2005, while at the same time seeing a psychiatrist to deal with his own depression and anxiety.
Having been able to manage his depression, Tony has since become an advocate for mental health, wellbeing and stigma reduction in the region, encouraging people with depression and anxiety to seek help. And a big part of that is staying connected with friends, family and colleagues through all life’s ups and downs, big or small, asking if they’re okay.
“Research has shown that there’s a fairly good level of awareness about say asking the R U OK question, but there’s a little bit tentative about actually doing it. The thought of having a conversation and an ‘R U OK?’ conversation can be overwhelming, but the steps that we lay out in our resources are quite simple.”
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Amongst the R U OK? resources are conversation starters that follow the acronym ALEC, which guides people to ask the question then listen actively to what they are saying, encourage action and let them know their feelings are valid, and the last step is to check in to remind them that you care.
It doesn’t need to be a mighty grand gesture to have an impact on the people around you either. A phone call, a facetime, message or even a post online is more than enough to check on those around you – just make sure you’re following through beyond the simple question.
“Our resources are about how to have meaningful conversations and sort of reiterate that you don’t have to be an expert and you don’t have to try to solve someone’s problem or experience. It’s just about trying to support and connect with your friend and family member.”
As described on the R U OK? website, trust your instincts and be aware of changes in one’s online behaviour or the way they communicate with others – because anything is everything right now.
“Most of the time the outcome is that there’s a sense of relief and gratitude that someone has asked the question,” Tony adds.
“You’re just there to support them, encourage them to confide without judgement and point them in the right direction, whether that be a qualified psychologist, organisations just headspace and BeyondBlue, or recommend they think about developing some mental health practices if they have some stressful work or study commitments coming up.
“And if you’re worried about someone and feel urgent professional support is needed, contact your local doctor, emergency department or services like Lifeline.”
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Geelong personal trainer Romy Harwood is a living reminder that it’s more important than ever to have conversations about mental health. Having battled depression since she was 16 and suffering from anorexia since 2015, it was because of the help of her dedicated family and youth mental health service, Headspace, that Romy has been able to turn her life around and claw her way out of a dark frame of mind.
“I’m a massive advocate for people making sure they check in on others, I’m constantly making sure that I’m present for my own family and friends. There are times I forget to check in with myself and that’s exactly where the people in my life step up for me,” she explains.
“It has taken me a long time to not be scared to open up and to admit that I’m not okay but I’m grateful that now I know people are checking in because they care. There is nothing but value in checking in on your mates.”
If you’ve been there, you know that sometimes, asking someone to help seems like the hardest thing in the world, even though we know that once we get the words out, we will feel better, even in the smallest capacity.
Your genuine support can make a difference whatever they are facing, big or small – and knowing you’re there for them can help them support you too.
Everyone has the power to protect others through meaningful communication, and for Romy, it was the people around her and their willingness to check-in that allowed her to open up and admit that she wasn’t okay. This ultimately saved her life.
“They [friends and family] kept asking. No matter what answer I gave, I was able to eventually open up and answer the question truthfully because it never stopped being asked. As I said took me a long time but I know there is no shame in not being OK.
“There is no shame on leaning on the people around you, your people who are there to support you.
“To me, the best strategy is starting to be okay with not being okay. I promise you it’s not as scary as it sounds. Every time you fight the urge to suppress your feelings you are freeing room in your life and heart to be your absolute best self.”
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Make a moment meaningful and ask the people around you how they’re really going. In the time it takes to have a coffee you can start a conversation that could change a life. You don’t need to be an expert to reach out – just a good friend and a great listener.
“I can honestly say that R U OK Day hasn’t just had a positive impact on my life but the day and all it stands for saved it,” Romy adds.
“It’s the conversations that these days promote and the honesty that comes with it that saves lives.
“Ask the question. Answer honestly. Live fearlessly”
To read more about R U OK?, their work and how to have a meaningful conversation about all life’s ups and downs, check out RUOK.org.au
Please note, R U OK? is not a crisis support or counselling service and their website is not a substitute for professional care. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek assistance by contacting a trusted healthcare professional or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others, seek immediate assistance by calling Triple Zero (000).