Every year, on the second Thursday of September, Australia observes the R U OK? Day. This significant day serves as a poignant reminder of the crucial role we all play in checking in on the well-being of those around us, particularly at the workplace. It’s an occasion dedicated to initiating conversations that can genuinely impact someone’s life positively.
The Origin of the R U OK? Day
It’s worth noting that the initiative for the R U OK? Day began with a powerful story. The idea was sparked by a son’s concern for his father stemming from a deeply personal experience related to suicide. Gavin Larkin’s father, Barry Larkin, died by suicide in 1996. When Gavin Larkin experienced depression and was concerned about his mental health, he completed a course at Landmark Worldwide. From this course, he chose to complete a project about suicide prevention to honour his father, to create a national day of action about contacting people who might be having a difficult time. This resulted in the eventual co-creation with Janina Nearn of R U OK? in 2009. The first day was held on 29 November 2009, but the annual timing later changed to be on the second Thursday of September. This heartfelt gesture turned into a nationwide movement, emphasizing the importance of reaching out and connecting with those around us.
By thinking about the people you know, whether they’re your family, friends, or colleagues, there’s a good chance that one of them might be going through a challenging time. By engaging in meaningful discussions about life’s ups and downs, you have the power to provide vital support and foster connections even before someone reaches a point of crisis.
Recognizing the Telltale Signs
Sometimes, you might notice that something seems off with a coworker. They might not be behaving as they typically do, or you might observe them doing or saying things that don’t align with their character. Recognizing these signs is of utmost importance. Here are some common indicators that someone might be facing difficulties:
Listening to Their Words:
- Expressing apprehension about the future
- Feeling trapped
- Experiencing profound hopelessness
- Lacking a sense of purpose
- Displaying irrational or confused thoughts
- Expressing feelings of loneliness
- How they greet you when you say hello
Observing Their Actions:
- Withdrawing from social interactions with friends, family, or colleagues
- Exhibiting noticeable mood swings
- Losing interest in previously enjoyed hobbies
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Engaging in reckless or risky behaviours
- Experiencing changes in their sleep patterns, such as insomnia or excessive sleep
- Increasing substance use
Considering Life Circumstances:
- Struggling in personal relationships
- Dealing with financial hardships
- Coping with significant health concerns
- Grieving the loss of loved ones
- Battling workplace stress
- Experiencing constant stressors
- Feeling overwhelmed by current challenges
Preparing to Ask, “R U OK?”
Before you initiate a conversation by asking someone if they are okay, it’s vital to ensure that you are in the right frame of mind to provide support. Make sure you have enough time to listen attentively and select a suitable location for the conversation that respects their need for privacy.
While preparing for this conversation, be ready for the possibility that their response might be, “No, I’m not okay.” It’s equally important to understand that they might not be prepared to talk or may prefer not to engage in the discussion with you at that moment.
How to Ask, “R U OK?”
At times, people hesitate to ask this question because they’re unsure of how to phrase it. However, it’s more crucial to approach the conversation with respect, genuine care, and dignity than to use the perfect words. When speaking with them, consider asking open-ended questions like, “How are you doing?” Mention specific observations about their behaviour when expressing your concerns.
If they choose to open up to you, here’s what you can do:
- Listen attentively without interruptions
- Acknowledge their experiences
- Display empathy for their situation
- Ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate your care and seek clarification
- Reflect on what they’ve shared to show your understanding
What If They’re Not Ready to Talk?
If they’re not willing to talk, reassure them that you care about them and are genuinely concerned for their well-being. Avoid using guilt or criticism. Instead, explore the possibility of them confiding in someone else they trust. If they still prefer not to talk to anyone, let them know that your support remains available whenever they feel ready.
Responding to “I’m Not Okay”
If someone confides in you that they’re not okay, respond with support, compassion, and empathy. Support can encompass various actions, such as providing information about available help, offering practical assistance with daily tasks, or simply inquiring about how they would like to be supported. If they’ve experienced similar feelings before, ask them about strategies that helped them in the past.
One common symptom when someone is struggling is a sense of hopelessness. Reassure them that, with time and appropriate treatment, they can start to feel better. People are often more inclined to seek professional help if someone close to them suggests it. Inquire if they’ve considered professional help and offer information about available support options.
After the initial conversation, it’s crucial to follow up regularly. Check in on them from time to time to assess how they’re coping and encourage them to continue seeking help. Consistency and predictability in your interactions can provide valuable support. Additionally, suggest exploring other sources of support, such as self-help strategies or support groups.
Mindfulness is a beneficial self-help strategy that offers advantages for mental health and overall well-being, particularly in managing stress and anxiety. It involves being present and maintaining focus where it matters while distancing yourself from strong emotional reactions. Regular meditation practice enhances mindfulness skills.
One valuable resource is the Smiling Mind app, an Australian mindfulness app with various guided sessions suitable for beginners and experienced practitioners. While mindfulness can be an effective coping strategy, encourage them to consult a health professional for personalized assistance.
Remember, a Simple Question Can Make a World of Difference
Asking someone “R U OK?” on R U OK? Day and throughout the year can potentially change someone’s life. If you or someone you know is struggling, don’t hesitate to seek help from professionals or reach out to the following helplines:
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
- MensLine: 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
- 13 Yarn (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander support): 13 92 76
- Q Life (LGBTI support): 1800 184 527
Take the initiative to ask, listen, and support. Your actions can have a profound impact on someone’s life, promoting well-being and connectedness in your workplace and beyond.
Disclaimer: The information and views expressed in this article are individual and inspired by the writer’s experience and study in Mental Health and Clinical Hypnotherapy.
Picture credit: ruok.org.au