R U Ok? Part 1
RUOK is a pretty simple message. Take a minute, change a life.
The R U OK? theme for 2017 is “You’ve Got what It Takes”. There are a number of factors that make this more complicated than it sounds.
First of all, are you in a place where you can truly hear someone’s response? We all enter a conversation with our own expectations and experiences – these shape the direction and depth of our conversations. If we are having a bad day, it can be hard to hear others’ stories of hardship too. If we feel sick or are in pain, part of our attention may be focused on the messages our body are giving us, rather than being fully engaged in the conversation. If we have deadlines and commitments our mind is focusing on, it’s easy to tune out. Sometimes we are worried or concerned about how we come across to the other person, so we invest energy and attention in maintaining a façade, halting genuine conversation and missing the signals that someone else isn’t doing so well. These might be times when we are just not ready to ask R U OK? – and we need to work on how to bring us to a place where we can really listen. Perhaps this is the time to sit back and reflect on what you need to bring those positive emotions through or perhaps it’s your time to reach out for help.
There are a number of warning signs that can indicate someone isn’t coping. These warning signs might be very general – they may not be their usual self, perhaps they aren’t out and about like normal, they might change their drinking habits or perhaps they are snappy or more emotional than usual. R U OK? is a suicide prevention initiative, whereby warning signs for suicide extend beyond those general signs to include indications that someone is thinking about suicide. This might include having conversations with themes of hopelessness, or that they are a burden to others. If you see signs that they are actively thinking about suicide, for example they are talking or writing about suicide, they start giving away possessions without good reason this may indicate that they are actively planning suicide. Sometimes it’s really hard for us to know whether they are signs of suicide without asking the person, “R U OK?”
How do we approach someone we are worried about? Should we just ask them? There are a few other things to consider, including, whether you (and they) have the time to have a genuine conversation? To take the time needed, make sure you choose a time when the person doesn’t seem rushed and you know you don’t have to cut the conversation short to rush off somewhere else. Equip yourself with resources to help your response (see Part 2!)
What happens if you feel really nervous? What if you’re worried that they will say, “you know what, I’m not OK” – What do I do then? This feeling may reflect a lack of confidence that you can make a difference. The truth is, you don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to fix their problems. You are supporting them to get help and letting them know that you care. This means listening without judgement and responding with compassion. Sounds easy right? And yet your heart is pounding, you feel hot and your mind starts racing? Easy tricks to remember are – start to take slow, deep breaths and exhale just as slowly. Make small comments that show you are truly listening, like “uh huh”, or you can explain in your own words that “that does sound difficult” or “I can understand why you are having a hard time”. These are simple gestures that show you are listening. Ask what their usual resources are and how you might link them in with people who can assist.
Sometimes listening is enough for someone to see they aren’t alone, that people care and it’s okay to ask for help. Other times, we need to actively direct that help seeking – and support someone getting the kind of help that will make a difference.