How to help someone who is not OK

Being prepared to check in with a friend or relative who may be going through a tough time can make all the difference.

Each day in Australia, around eight people die through suicide and it’s the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15 to 44.

Asking someone if they are OK and checking in with them regularly can make a difference.

But knowing what to say and how to ask can seem daunting.

“We did a survey that found people are fearful that this was none of their business or that the other person might get angry and that they were going to make things worse,” says Katherine Newton, R U OK? campaign director.

The organisation encourages people to ask those around them how they are feeling and to offer support.

In the lead up to R U OK Day, Katherine shares her top tips for checking in with family and friends – and what to do if they aren’t OK.

Get ready to ask

“Consider the best and most comfortable place for that person – so get ready to ask them at a place and time that is best for them,” says Katherine.

Don’t ask when you are running out the door within five minutes. Give yourself time for this conversation.

How to start the conversation

Be relaxed and friendly, and ask questions like: “How are you going? It’s just I’ve noticed …”

Point out the differences or changes you’re worried about. Maybe they are not taking part in family get-togethers, they don’t seem to be as productive at work or they haven’t been themselves on the sports field.

“This may help the person see that they’re not flying under the radar as they thought, so perhaps now is the time to admit they are not OK,” says Katherine.

Listen without judgment

“It’s so easy to jump in and to interrupt, but listen with your ears and not your mouth,” says Katherine.

“Be open to whatever they say. Try not to judge and remember that you have two ears and one mouth – so listen in that ratio!”

Be open to whatever they say. Try not to judge and remember that you have two ears and one mouth – so listen in that ratio!

Encourage action

Ask: “What’s the one thing that will help you manage the load right now? Choose one thing I can help you with right now?”

Sometimes a person needs professional support, so ask if they’ve thought about seeing their doctor.

“If they are not keen on the doctor, suggest finding helplines or websites together,” says Katherine.

Follow up

Once you’ve asked “R U OK?” check in with your friend after a couple of days.

Ask them how they’ve gone with booking to see their GP, whether they’ve looked at a website you found or if there something else you can do.

“It can take people a long time to get help and recover. Be patient. Remind them they are not alone and that you are with them and you care,” says Katherine.

R U OK Day is on September 13.

Learn more about how what you eat can affect your mental health, the best foods for healing anxiety and a new key to solving postnatal depression.

Written by Sarah Marinos