Have you asked R U OK lately?
It’s that time of year again when we are reminded that mental health and suicide remain highly stigmatised issues to discuss both in and outside the workplace.
Thankfully, with the efforts of organisations such as R U OK?, we are much more open to talking about these issues.
How it all began
R U OK?Day has been held on the second Thursday of September each year since 2009.
Its founder Gavin Larkin began the organisation as a way to honour his father, Barry, who took his own life in 1995. Gavin realised a national campaign was needed to create a lasting impact and change behaviour and thinking around suicide. R U OK?Day was born. Its aim is to get connected and stay connected as the best way for people to help those who may be at risk of suicide.
The campaign has grown and has the support of community leaders, organisations, athletes, and celebrities, including Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts and Simon Baker. R U OK? has since evolved into a not-for-profit suicide prevention organisation.
It can be a daunting thing to start a conversation about our concerns for a friend or family member, often because we don’t know how to begin or are worried about the consequences. The reality is most people just want someone to listen and to know that someone cares.
For starters, how do you know when someone is struggling with their mental health? As a general guide, you may observe them to be:
- quiet and withdrawn
- acting unusually or out of the ordinary
- avoiding people socially, making excuses for not doing things or attending events
- regularly late for work or having frequent sick days.
If you are concerned about a workmate or friend or family member here are a few things you can do:
- approach them discreetly and tell them you’ve noticed they seem a bit down or haven’t been themselves lately and ask if they would like to talk about it
- if they don’t want to engage right now, let them know you are available to talk when they feel they can; when they do, maybe take them out for a coffee, away from the workplace where you can both feel more relaxed
- if they tell you they are struggling and feeling low, remind them they can get some help through their organisation’s Employee Assistance Program, human resources / people and culture team or their GP; if they already have a mental health professional they use, then encourage them to get in touch with a counsellor or they can get a referral from their GP
- suggest they use resources available online such as SANE or Black Dog Institute which have plenty of information about anxiety and depression and when it is becoming a problem.
If someone is saying things like “it’s hopeless, they would be better off without me, I just don’t want to do this anymore,” professionals in this area recommend asking the person directly if they are thinking about taking their own life or are thinking about suicide. It is not always easy to be so direct but it is better to raise it, know exactly what is going on and provide a space in which the person can openly discuss their problems and not feel trapped or overwhelmed by them.
If someone is thinking about taking their own life, encourage them to:
- get professional help from their GP or mental health professional as soon as possible; or
- call Lifeline on 13 11 14; or
- call Suicide Call Back on 1300 659 467.
If they are in immediate danger call 000.
There are also some things which are best avoided when talking to someone struggling with their mental health:
- don’t be judgmental – put your own opinions aside
- don’t attempt to give problem-solving advice
- don’t share anything they tell you with other people without the person’s permission (unless you have reason to believe there is imminent danger to themselves or others).
What works for some people may not work for others. Remember it is not your role to be a counsellor. Leave that to the professionals. In the context of suicide, avoid using the word ‘commit’ – this has connotations relating back to the times when suicide was considered a crime.
Remember most people just want support and taking the time to listen and have a chat could save a life. As the campaign says, asking R U OK? can be a powerful way to help someone.