• Dr Phoebe Lau

What to do after asking R U OK?

It's R U OK Day! A day that raises suicide prevention awareness and advocates for open conversation around this critical issue. It's a great opportunity to talk about depression and suicide, and to destigmatise mental health. But, what should we do after asking, R U OK?

Two people sitting at a table with coffee
Photo by Joshua Ness

Here 5 ways to help someone if they're in serious distress:

1. Be gentle and considerate in your approach... Most people feel embarrassed or ashamed to think that they're struggling. What's worse is when they think others have noticed. So start the conversation in a general way like, "You haven't seemed like yourself lately. Is anything on your mind?". Once you get a feel of how they will react then you can be more specific in your question, "Yeah I noticed you seemed really worried about something. What's been happening?"

2. Be patient... Even though someone has acknowledged that they're struggling, they might not want to talk about it. In this case, don't force the conversation. Let them know that you'll be there for them when they are ready, or when they feel like having a chat about it.

Two people talking on a bench
Photo by Alex Holyoake

3. Be empathic... Most people fall into the trap of advice-giving or problem-solving first. As well-meaning as your intentions are, it's not your problem to solve. It can also be off-putting because it can come across like you don't really understand the emotional side. Instead really listen, reflect back how they feel, and summarise what they've said, "Yeah, I can see you're really overwhelmed because of all the work, and problems at home at the moment."

4. Normalise problems... No doubt we have all faced moments of pressure, distress, sadness, disappointment, or grief. We can use our own experiences to understand what it might be like for others. But be careful not to accidentally derail the conversation to talk about you. Just share a little bit of yourself, for example, "Yeah I've felt like that before. It's really hard". It's important that no one feels alone at a difficult time.

5. Encourage them to seek professional support... Sometimes it takes more than a loving family, friend, or partner to help someone through their problems. This also helps to protect your boundaries. Encourage them to speak to their GP or seek a psychologist if they continue to struggle.

If you or someone you know would like extra support feel free to find out more about our individual therapy service.

Remember, in a crisis there's always Lifeline 13 11 14, a 24 hour support and suicide prevention service.

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