Do you have a gut feeling that someone you know hasn’t been acting quite themselves recently? Have you noticed any changes in their behaviour like withdrawing socially or neglecting usual responsibilities? Don’t ignore it and take a step to start a conversation by asking, “R U OK?” This just may help to propel that individual in taking the steps they need to gain support for their mental health challenges.
This year, the ‘R U OK? Day’ suicide prevention initiative is continuing to raise awareness among Australians that each of us can play a role in supporting those who are struggling and help to protect people from suicide. It does not suggest that a simple question will be the solution to sometimes longstanding mental health difficulties. Rather, it aims to encourage Australians to intentionally and meaningfully connect with each other, everyday, with the hope of creating a community that shows genuine empathy and support for one another.
There is a misconception that if you ask about someone’s emotional state, then you need to offer solutions. However, this is not true, you do not need to be an expert to offer a listening ear and point people in the right direction where they can receive professional guidance. Avoiding the elephant in the room to ‘not get involved’ can sometimes reinforce an individual’s feelings of loneliness and isolation, primary symptoms of depression, which recent studies suggest are on the rise among Australians.
Alarmingly, suicide remains the leading cause of death among Australians aged between 15-44, with statistics showing that approximately 3000 Australians take their lives per year, which is more than 8 deaths each day. Furthermore, males are three times more likely to die from a suicide attempt, although in recent years there has been an increase in suicide deaths by females.
Nowadays, we know that living with a mental health condition is quite common, with around 45% of Australians experiencing these difficulties at least once in their lifetime, while 20% are affected every year. Gone are the days when we pushed our feelings under the rug. That didn’t work then and doesn’t work now! It is plainly evident in scientific research that we all face challenges in our lives so let’s drop the facade and initiate those sometimes uncomfortable conversations to normalize these issues and help people feel less alone and more connected. Research shows that a sense of connectedness to others in our friendship networks, family, workplace and wider community, fosters higher well-being and therefore protects the mental health of individuals. Asking, “R U Ok?,” offers the chance for real and honest feelings to be shared which can assist individuals to feel safe enough to seek help.
Be aware of the signs to look out for in a person that may be struggling such as:
- Down or flat mood
- Low energy and tiredness
- Easily upset or agitated
- Social withdrawal or isolating themselves
- Neglecting everyday duties like attending work, housework etc
- Negative/hopeless outlook towards their circumstances
- Avoidance of certain situations or tasks that cause anxiety
- Complaints of disturbed sleep or changes in appetite
- Excessive changes to weight
- Difficulty concentration or impaired memory
- Loss of interest in usually enjoyed activities or interests
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Emotionally detached/numb
- High standards of themselves
- Poor self-esteem evidenced by the way they talk about themselves and their capabilities
- Low resilience- not bouncing back from challenges
So how would you go about starting a conversation with someone who may be experiencing some of these symptoms?
Firstly, adopt a non-judgemental, friendly approach and be ready to just listen and acknowledge their response. Studies in psychology demonstrate that when a person relationally connects with someone by simply listening and validating their feelings, this can help to facilitate a healing process.
Use open-ended questions like, “How have you been going?” and gently mention that you have noticed changes in their behaviour such as, “I’ve noticed you’ve been quiet lately.” The person may not feel comfortable opening up, and that’s ok, just ask them if there is someone in their life they feel they can speak to and also let them know you are willing to chat when they feel ready. Also, allow the person space to share where they are at and if they seem comfortable speaking with you, ask further questions about their feelings such as how long they have felt this way, what is making it worse and what usually helps them to feel better.
Try to also repeat back what they have said to paraphrase so that they feel heard and understood. If it appears that these feelings have been persisting for over a week, encourage them to seek support through a GP who can refer them to either a psychologist or other health professional if necessary.
Try to normalize the process of seeking support and be positive about the role of professionals in overcoming challenges. For more information on starting a conversation, go to www.ruok.org.au
We no longer view mental health issues as a dooming life sentence that we have to face on our own. Instead, we can adopt a more balanced perspective that these challenges can be managed by learning ways to cope more effectively and by reaching out and taking advantage of the supports that are set up in our community. We can all do our bit to contribute to a caring society by staying connected and asking, “R U Ok?” which may be a key step in someone’s mental health journey and may even save a life.
Written by Francesca Finelli
Clinical Psychologist and Writer for Be That Tv
View episodes of ‘Be That‘