"R U OK?" - what to do if the answer is "no"

06 October 2016

R U OK Day occurs every year in early September, and plays an important part in increasing awareness and conversation around mental health. You might hear people asking if those around them are feeling okay, and you might have some friends, family members or work colleagues that you’d like to check in with too.

“When people are aware and noticing their friends and families not looking too good, asking the question is really important,” explains psychologist Dr Marny Lishman. “It opens that dialogue that would ordinarily be brushed off. And if they don’t seem to be doing too well but they do brush you off when you ask if they’re okay, ask them again. That can be really powerful.”

But what happens if you ask those people if they’re okay, and they say no? If someone you know really is struggling and is ready to open up to you about that, what’s the next step in helping them?

 

Don’t fear what happens next

Experts say that the most important thing is giving people the chance to talk about what they’re experiencing. Lishman says, “People often don’t ask if someone is okay because they then think they’ll have to solve the problem, but you don’t have to do that.” Instead, trust that asking the question, letting the person open up, offering support and helping them approach others is enough. It’s unlikely the person wants you to fix things, but rather they want to be heard and validated.

 

Let the person talk

Being able to talk about what’s really going on is a strong start to recovery for many who are experiencing mental health challenges. As a friend, family member or work colleague, allowing someone the space to talk to you is one of the most important things you can do.

“We’re wired to be socially connected and to communicate. For people who are not okay, just talking is a great first step,” Lishman says.

If someone wants to let down their guard to tell you about their struggles, it’s important to not interrupt or dismiss their fears.

 

Keep up the ongoing support

After that first conversation, it’s important to continue your support of that person. This can mean simply listening some more, being a shoulder to cry on, or giving them a call regularly to see how things are going.

You can also offer practical support, such as a lift to see their GP, cooking a meal for them or babysitting their children. Be careful, however, not to take over and be too pushy. Instead, offer suggestions for help but give the person the final decision in whether they’d like that help or not.

 

Suggest they speak to others

When someone tells you they’re struggling, it’s important to suggest they speak to others who can provide different types of support. This can be, as a first step, other friends, family members or a partner.

Remind the person that there are other forms of help available to them as well, such as their GP, Lifeline and psychologists. It can help to reassure them that these services exist because it’s common for people to experience challenges.

Asking someone if they are okay can make a real difference in their life and see them having the courage and confidence to seek help and recover. As Lishman tells us, “It all starts with that initial conversation”.