By Megan Barrow
R U OK? Day is rolling around for another year (Thursday 14 September) and is a day to remind Australia we’ve all got what it takes to ask “are you ok?” and support those struggling with life.
I know many disregard the day and the message believing it’s not overly important.
I’d like to challenge you to understand the importance of the R U OK? message and how three little words and four simple steps can change a life.
First, here’s some sobering facts:
- Every year more than 3,000 people take their own lives– that’s around 8 lives every day.
- 65,000 people attempt suicide each year
- Suicide is the biggest killer of Australians under 44 years
Second, context is everything. R U OK? founder Gavin Larkin lost his father to suicide and was left with many questions, one being if “are you ok” could have changed his father’s mind from taking his life.
Further context is my story and why I am an R U OK? ambassador.
I’ve had depression and suicidal thoughts since 14 years old. It’s really frightening and only by the ‘grace of god’ I didn’t act on them.
In these darkest of times I wanted someone to notice me. I wanted someone to say they loved me; to say I mattered.
When you have depression, logic goes out the door and you cannot see the point of living. You consider how people may turn up to your funeral, but truly believe their lives will move on – more happily without you.
When I first heard about R U OK? Day it had an immediate effect on me. I texted a bunch of people the question, told them how important they are to me, and that I’m there for them if they’re not ok.
Yet, many Australians don’t have this reaction, and despite all my work as an ambassador for the past 4 years, there are people in my life who struggle to ask me if I’m ok. Why? I have asked and understand it to be because they’re scared to “get it wrong”.
How to save a life in four steps:
- Ask: Are you OK?
If you notice someone is not themselves or has changed behaviour, take the time to ask if they’re ok.
Changed behaviour may include avoiding situations, extended sick leave, not coping with normal stress. I know I get very quiet and don’t answer texts and calls. My Mum will say I get rude and snappy.
If your gut says someone is struggling, take time to ask them if they’re ok. If you can, do this privately and allow time for them to answer.
It’s ok to say you’re worried. It’s ok to say you’ve noticed their changed behaviour.
Try and avoid saying you know how they feel and never say “to get over it” or “be positive”.
Do say you care.
- Listen without judgement
Following on from asking “are you ok” can be hard but it’s important to listen to what they’re going through without judgement. As difficult as it may be to hear what they’re feeling, let them say what they need to say.
Your role is to facilitate the conversation. Not to have the answers.
I know feeling heard and validated is all I’ve ever wanted as someone who can often feel lonely, invisible and unloved. If people dismiss what I’m saying when I’m depressed, my thoughts can continue to spiral.
- Encourage action
After you’ve let the person talk, try your best to encourage them to take action on their wellness, best being to a make an appointment with a mental health professional. This may start with a GP, otherwise a psychologist or psychiatrist.
If there’s resistance, ask if it would help if you make the appointment and go with them.
Otherwise, action may be something like go for a small walk or download a meditation app, or go to a café or the movies. (You get the idea…)
Both my Mum and sister are very good at this step. They know to remind me to check in with my psychiatrist and will suggest an outing together – some activity I enjoy.
- Check in
Oh, the people who have said they care and will be there who I’ve never heard from… Follow up is the last step in the R U OK? process and is about committing to checking in with the person to remind them they’re not on their own and you do care.
This doesn’t have to be anything major. It can be as simple as a text message or a post on social media reminding them you remember they’re having a tough time. But do pay attention if they need a bit more support (again) and follow the process from the beginning.
R U OK? acknowledges that supporting someone who isn’t ok can be tough. But so is supporting someone with a physical health issue and you wouldn’t walk away from that, would you
So, consider their vision of living in a world where everyone is connected and protected from suicide and how you can play your part by asking someone how they’re doing this R U OK? Day?
Don’t be scared: You’ve got what it takes. And you just may change a life without even realising.
Note: If you’re currently struggling with life and/or a mental health issue, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Australia).
About Megan Barrow
Megan Barrow is a marketing consultant and mental health advocate, speaker and ambassador. She writes about her story of agoraphobia and anxiety recovery at http://www.unbuckleyourfears.com
Other articles by Megan
8 tips to living a balanced life with anxiety