This year, as the nation continues to cope with changes to our way of living, working, connecting and recreating, this question is a crucial one to ask. It’s also a year where the answer to our question is more likely to be in the “not really” or “absolutely not” category.
So let’s explore some ways in which we can approach the question in a meaningful and authentic way, and consider ways in which we can answer to ensure the national day of checking in has an impact where it’s needed most.
RUOK? A most excellent campaign that has brought a taboo subject into the light of day, at least for one day a year. However, despite the great work that our colleagues do around this campaign, many we talk to still report fear and a lack of capability when it comes to connecting with someone who may be unwell.
So, we thought we would share with you our mud map for touching base with someone.
What is it? A national day of action to remind all of us to ask the question: Are you OK
Why? It’s important to know asking a person if they’re OK, any time of the year, can:
- save a life. When we ask the question, it provides a space for a person in crisis to reach out
- hold the mirror up, it lets a person know you have noticed a change (if there has been), it lets a person know they aren’t hiding it as well as they might be (if they are)
- lets a person know you care (when done with authenticity and empathy)
- lets a person know they aren’t alone (despite what their brain is telling them)
How to ask: RUOK?
The idea and concept of RUOK is a fantastic one. 3 out of 4 Aussies are aware of RUOK day, and 2 in 3 now believe the campaign has made people more willing to ask their friends about their troubles.
Yet in Australia, if I were to ask a colleague or a mate “are they OK” what would they say? If they were to ask me? “…Yeh, all good”
So how do we get cut through?
Who do we ask?
Anyone and everyone, BUT ask yourself, am I the BEST person to ask. If not, who is?
When should we ask? When your gut tells you to.
Trust your instincts. More specifically, it’s when we see a change in the way a person reacts, responds, engages with life and if that change seems as though it’s outside of their normal daily ups and downs. Especially if the change has become persistent over the last few weeks. You may also notice changes in their daily behaviours along with changes in sleep, weight, fatigue or connectedness.
How do we ask?
Here’s where it pays to pause, and plan for the conversation. We must make the conversation, in the first instance, about OUR observations and OUR concerns, not about how THEY have changed or what THEY are doing wrong.
Start with heart and use “I” statements.
“I have noticed…”
When we use I statements the conversation is focused on our perspective and our view (what we have seen) and not about their perceived failures. In other words, we hold the mirror up to what raised our concern and what made us want to ask the question in the first place.
Then we listen, without judgement and without putting our view or perspective into the mix. Remember this is about their views and their feelings. We all look at the world through our lens
Then what? Use the U.S.A approach (Understand, Support, Act).
- Understand how the person is feeling and how they are affected.
- Discuss ways in which you can support them and where they can get more support.
- Agree on a plan of action: when will you follow up, what are their next steps, what will they do if things get worse.
Where is “support”? Your GP, your family and loved ones, your Employee Assistance Program (for the person and for you to check in on how the conversation went), lifeline (13 11 14), men’s line (1300 78 99 78), 1800RESPECT, your religious leaders etc.
In a crisis, in major cities, there is the CATT – the crisis assessment and treatment team. A CATT is a group of people who work together and includes mental health professionals such as psychiatric nurses, social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists. The CAT team responds to urgent requests to help people in mental health crises 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
And never forget, 000 is there or you can head to emergency with a person for immediate support.
- If we are going to ask, we may need to pause our day, and take time to support and act. That’s not a reason not to ask, it’s just something to consider when planning to ask.
- It’s OK to speak up when you are out of your depth. Use that as a reason to call for help with the person. E.g.:
“I’m so glad you shared this with me, it must have taken a huge amount of effort to do so. It’s really important to me that you find the support you need, and there’s a bunch of options. My concern is I don’t have the skills or knowledge to help you how you need it. What I can do is help connect you and support you through that”
When we get asked
How can we answer?
Ideally with honesty and openness. The concept of RUOK only works if we open up when times are tough. Conversations are a two-way thing
BUT, what if you aren’t comfortable discussing your troubles with a person that has asked, and you’re not OK?
Tell someone you do trust, even if they haven’t asked. Or go to your EAP, GP, men’s health line, etc.
Some ways to answer the question when you’re not OK:
I’m not really OK but I don’t think there is anything you can do about it but thanks for asking anyway
I’m not OK but I don’t think I’m up to talking about it right now. Thank you for asking
I’m not OK and I’m struggling but I’ve got no idea what to do about it
I am not OK and I think there is something you can do to help me, please
I’m not OK BUT I have been working with someone to help me get through it. Thank you for asking.
Remember: it’s OK to feel blue, sad, angry, helpless, hopeless or alone. It’s a natural response to an event or a change in our brain and the way it’s wired or the balance of hormones in our mind. It’s not OK to feel that way constantly, long term, to suffer and not ask for help
Also remember: the RU OK stats show that of all the people that were asked RUOK, half of those weren’t and needed support. 50% of those who were asked, wanted to be asked.
After RUOK day
RUOK Day is every day. If we see changes or have concerns its always better to ask than not
If you aren’t OK or realise you aren’t OK, ask for help. At least share how you are feeling.
If you are OK? What are you doing to keep it that way? Are you exercising, eating well (plants and fibre), practising mindfulness, building healthy connections, engaging in nature? All of these things have been shown to immunise against mental health concerns. It also means that when troubling times do present we have the skills to roll with it.
Places for support:
- Employee assistance provider: confidential, free, for support in any area (financial, relationships, stress, anxiety, depression or just to support you when supporting others)
- lifeline (13 11 14). National charity providing all Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services
- Kids Helpline. 1800 551 800. Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.
- Suicide call back service: 1300 659 467. Free counselling for suicide prevention & mental health via telephone, online & video for anyone affected by suicidal thoughts, 24/7
- men’s line (1300 789 978) MensLine Australia is a telephone and online counselling service for men with family and relationship concerns. We’re here to help anywhere, anytime
- 1800RESPECT: National Sexual assault and domestic family violence counselling service
- RUOK website (https://www.ruok.org.au) or beyondblue.com
Increase the mental health capability of your organisation
Organisations and workplaces will impact an employee’s mental health. It can be a positive influence. By focusing on mental health literacy, reducing stigma, providing skills and strategies for managing stress, arming employees with skills for having crucial conversations and introducing positive, mindfulness-based skills can optimise the mental health capability of your workplace.
To take it to the ultimate level, consider managing workplace risk factors for psychological distress and developing leaders who are capable and confident in supporting employees with mental health problems.
To learn more check out the highly successful Mind Your Mood program