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Thursday the 8th September is R U OK? Day. It's a national day of action to remind Australians that every day is the day to ask, ‘are you OK?’ and start a meaningful conversation whenever they spot the signs that someone they care about might be struggling with life. You might have no idea what someone is going through. 

On this day we also want to remember those in our lives who have recently experienced grief and loss, and remind them we’re here for them if they ever need to talk. People still struggle with grief for weeks, months and years after their loss and it can significantly impact mental wellbeing, so it’s important to regularly check in and see how they’re coping. 

Learning how to open this conversation with someone is an extremely important and undervalued skill. We know just how much the simple question “are you OK?” can positively impact someone when they are struggling. 

Getting prepared to ask. 

You don’t need to be an expert to start facilitating these conversations, but you do need to be in the right headspace to talk to someone, because if not it could be detrimental to your own mental health and wellbeing. You also should be prepared and be in the right environment to ask someone R U OK? 

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before reaching out to others:

  • Am I in a good headspace to take this on?
  • Can I give as much time as needed?
  • Do I know how to respond if someone answers “No I’m not OK”?
  • Do I know that I can’t fix their problems, but can be there to listen?
  • Have I picked the right moment? Are we in a private and comfy space?
  • Is it a good time for them to chat?

Tips on asking R U OK?

R U OK? Day outlines four steps on the most effective way to ask R U OK? and to follow up in the days, weeks or months after the initial conversation.

  1. Ask R U OK?

Start by asking open-ended questions like “how are you going?” and “what’s been happening lately?” After the conversation begins to flow, you can be more specific, like that you’ve noticed a change in them, or prompting them to talk more about something they shared.

If they’re not ready to open up right there and then, that’s okay. Make it clear that you’re there if they change their mind and want to chat, or ask if there’s someone else in their life they can talk to about this.

  1. Listen with an open mind.

Asking the important question is one thing, but for an effective conversation you need to actively listen and support the other person as they share. Don’t judge what they’re saying, interrupt them or rush the conversation along. If they need time to think, sit patiently in the silence.

Ask follow up questions, such as “how is that making you feel?” or “how long have you been feeling this way?” You can also repeat what they said in your own words to clarify and show that you understand their point of view.

  1. Encourage action.

As much as talking can be helpful, it’s important to encourage the person to take action after the conversation. However, it’s important to know that you can’t force somebody to take action, they have to be open and receptive to it.

Some ways to encourage action could be asking the following:

  • How can I support you?"
  • What’s something you can do for yourself right now? Something that’s enjoyable or relaxing?
  • If they've been feeling really down for more than 2 weeks, encourage them to see a health professional. You could say: "It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I'm happy to help you find the right person to talk to.”
  • Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times. 
  • Talk about your own experience without talking over them: “When I was struggling, this is what worked for me.”

If you are concerned about someone in your life, please reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14 or encourage them to call.

  1. Check in.

Whilst these conversations are incredibly important, they can only go so far without a follow up. Remember to check in with them a couple of days or weeks after the initial conversation. Set up a reminder in your calendar if you’re likely to forget.

You can say something like: “I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to see how you were going since our last chat.” Use the listening skills we discussed earlier and if they haven’t taken any action, don’t judge. Sometimes having someone to listen to is huge progress for them. 

Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference. 

You don’t need to be an expert.

The theme this year for R U OK? Day is that you don’t need to be an expert to start a conversation. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a friend over a professional about grief, loss or mental wellbeing. 

Despite this being a national day of action, remember every day is a good day to ask R U OK?

Head here for more grief resources and support. We are here for you on every step of your journey.