There’s more to say after R U OK?

Asking someone “R U OK?” is the first step in checking in on a friend, co-worker or loved one. Learning how to progress the conversation if they say “No” is an essential – and possibly life-changing – next step.

This Thursday, 10 September marks R U OK? Day, a national day of action dedicated to reminding Australians to ask each other “R U OK?” This year’s message is: There’s more to say after R U OK?

Following a year of ups, downs and in-betweens, circumstances have made it even more important to reach out, stay connected or offer guidance to those who’ve really struggled.

Recognising the signs is vital and can potentially increase our confidence in starting a conversation.

“Signs are usually evident in what a person is saying, doing or what’s going on in their life. Given everyone reacts and behaves differently, sometimes the signs are difficult to recognise. Either way, it’s important to remember that they don’t have to be big and visible – sometimes the smallest things can give away that someone is not okay,” said Katherine Knight, Acting Medical Head of Department of Psychological Medicine at SCHN.

Once you’ve identified the signs, it’s time to prepare yourself to have the conversation. Being in the right headspace, willing to genuinely listen and putting aside an appropriate amount of time are some ways to assess whether you’re ready to start a conversation. Picking the right place and time is also important so consider somewhere relatively private and informal.

“As parents, we’re always advised to be the bigger person in frustrating instances, to be strong for our children during tough situations, to act wisely and treat them kindly. In a way, I think these are things we need to bring to ourselves and each other every day – to be kind, generous and open, and having the courage to be present and accounted for in an important conversation,” said Katherine.

You can follow four simple steps in having a conversation that could change a life – no matter the day of the year:

  1. Ask R U OK? – How are you travelling? You don’t seem yourself lately – want to talk about it?
  2. Listen – I’m here to listen if you want to talk more. Have you been feeling this way for a while?
  3. Encourage action – Have you thought about speaking to your doctor or a health professional about this? What do you think is a first step that would help you through this?
  4. Check in – Just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing? Have things improved or changed since we last spoke?

This free conversation guide provides additional information around how to start the conversation, various questions you can ask and what to do if the person doesn’t feel like talking.

Tips for managing emotional reactions

Sometimes, we can face some strong reactions during an R U OK? conversation, which may stir some uncomfortable feelings within ourselves. Following is some advice for managing emotional reactions and tips on how to minimise any awkwardness or tension.

How can I prepare myself for a strong emotional reaction?

  • Recognise their reaction might be in response to circumstances you’re not aware of.
  • Allow the person to fully express their emotions (i.e. let off steam).
  • Deal with the emotions first as the issues can be discussed more rationally afterwards.
  • Be an active listener.
  • Stay calm and don’t take things personally.

How do I deal with sadness?

  • Use lots of empathetic phrases such as “It sounds like you’re juggling a lot at the moment” or “I understand this must be challenging for you”.
  • Don’t feel the need to fill in the silence – know that silence gives them permission to keep talking and tell you more.
  • Encourage them to access support.
  • If someone begins to cry, sit quietly and allow them to cry. Lowering your eyes can minimise their discomfort.
  • Keep tissues handy if you think a conversation will trigger tears.

How do I deal with anger?

  • If someone is visibly angry, you can respond with “I can see that this has upset you. Why don’t you start at the beginning and tell me what I need to know...”
  • Allow them to identify all the factors that are contributing to their anger.
  • Be patient and prepared to listen to all they have to say.
  • Keep the conversation on track and reassure them you care by recapping what they’ve said. You could try: “So the thing that’s really upsetting you is ___ Is that right?”
  • If they feel wronged or treated unfairly, you’re unlikely to persuade them otherwise. It’s more constructive to listen and provide resources or connect them with formal channels where their specific concern/s can be addressed.

How do I deal with anxiety?

  • Speak in short, clear sentences while still showing concern and care.
  • If you anticipate an anxious response, use your preparation time to think about how you’ll say what you need to in a clear way.
  • Stay calm, breathe slowly and deeply, use a lower tone of voice and evenly paced speech.

Learn more about what to say by visiting ruok.org.au.

If you or anyone you know needs some assistance, help is available: