How to ask ‘R U OK?’
Professor Tony Jorm explains why asking someone ‘Are you ok?’ can change a life
Help stop little problems becoming bigger by connecting with someone you care about and asking them, ‘Are you ok?’
You don’t have to be an expert to support someone going through a tough time. You just need to be able to listen to their concerns without judgment and take the time to follow up with them.
Below are some simple steps to start a conversation.
1. Ask the question, ‘Are you ok?’
· Start a general conversation; preferably somewhere private
· Build trust through good eye contact, open and relaxed body language
· Ask open–ended questions
‘What’s been happening? How are you going?’
‘I’ve noticed that… What’s going on for you at the moment?’
‘You don’t seem like yourself and I’m wondering are you ok? Is there anything that’s contributing?’
2. Listen without judgement
· Guide the conversation with caring questions and give them time to reply
· Don’t rush to solve problems for them
· Help them understand that solutions are available when they’re ready to start exploring these
‘How has that made you feel?’
‘How long have you felt this way?’
‘What do you think caused this reaction?’
3. Encourage action
· Summarise the issues and ask them what they plan to do
· Encourage them to take one step, such as see their doctor
· If they’re unsure about where to go to for help, help them to contact a local doctor or the Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
‘What do you think might help your situation?’
‘Have you considered making an appointment with your doctor?’
‘Would you like me to make an appointment or come with you?’
4. Follow up
· Put a note in your diary to call them in one week. If they’re desperate, follow up sooner
· Ask if they’ve managed to take that first step and see someone
· If they didn’t find this experience helpful, urge them to try a different professional because there’s someone out there who can help them
‘How are things going? Did you speak with your doctor?’
‘What did they suggest? What did you think of their advice?’
‘You’ve had a busy time. Would you like me to make the appointment?’
Dealing with denial?
· If they deny the problem, don’t criticise them. Acknowledge they’re not ready to talk
· Say you’re still concerned about changes in their behavior and you care about them
· Ask if you can enquire again next week if there’s no improvement
· Avoid a confrontation with the person unless it’s necessary to prevent them hurting themselves or others
‘It’s ok that you don’t want to talk about it but please don’t hesitate to call me when you’re ready to discuss it.’
‘Can we meet up next week for a chat?’
‘Is there someone else you’d rather discuss this with?’
What if you think the person is considering suicide?
If you’re worried that someone you know is doing it tough or having suicidal thoughts, it’s important that you give that person an opportunity to talk about it. Find a quiet and private space to ask them how they’re feeling and whether they’ve had any thoughts about suicide. Speak in a calm, confident and non-judgmental manner to help them feel supported and reassured.
If someone says they’re thinking about suicide, it’s important you take it seriously. Tell them that you care about them and you want to help. Don’t become agitated, angry or upset. Explain that thoughts of suicide are common and don’t have to be acted upon.
It’s also essential that you determine whether they’ve formulated a plan to take their life. Ask if they’ve decided how they’ll kill themselves or if they’ve begun to take steps to end their life. If they have, it’s critical that you do NOT leave them alone and do NOT use guilt or threats to prevent suicide. Even if someone says they haven’t made a plan for suicide, you still need to take it seriously. Lack of a plan does NOT guarantee their safety. Get immediate professional help or call emergency help lines – such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 – for advice and support.
People who are thinking about suicide may signal their suicidal intentions to others. In other cases, there may be no warning. It’s therefore critical that you regularly engage with family, friends and colleagues and provide them with the attention and time to ask them how they’re going.
What if I can’t speak to them face-to-face?
· Use the same 4 steps above and talk to them over the phone
· Avoid calling from a noisy place or whilst traveling
· If they’re in a rush, make a time to call them back
· Remember that they can’t see your face, so it’s important to verbally indicate your support
‘I wanted to call up and have a chat to you about how you’re going. Is now a good time?’
‘It sounds like you’re busy or in a rush. When is a good time to call you back to have a proper chat?’
Can I use social media?
· Social media is a great way to share personal tips and information on coping strategies and wellbeing tips (visit our facebook.com/ruokday for examples)
· Send positive messages but avoid publicly commenting on how someone’s coping
· Encourage a conversation over the phone or in person by suggesting a time to catch up
Think carefully before posting or sharing content. What may be appropriate face-to-face could be misinterpreted online. If you’re wondering how the comment might be interpreted, it’s probably best not to send it and to give them a call instead.