With R U OK Day this Thursday, is there someone around you who could genuinely benefit from being asked that question?
In the lead up to this event, we recommend it might be worth taking closer notice of colleagues, friends, family and others around you to observe how they’re going – often, it’s the little subtle things that can be so telling that someone isn’t OK.
We advise workplaces to focus on mental health issues, to normalise and to have meaningful conversations to try to identify, help and avoid potential incidences of suicide.
Employees may be struggling to cope, and employers can play a role in creating an environment of acceptance and normalise asking for help. Managers can ensure they are providing helpful information and the support structures which employees may need.
Although asking someone, R U OK? is the first critical step, it can still be challenging for managers or colleagues to know how to support employees with mental health issues or how they can continue a sensitive conversation once started.
Here are some tips to help open that conversation, provide that much-needed guidance or support and continue the momentum through to a positive outcome.
Over the last fortnight, have you noticed two or more of the below among any team members?
If so, that person might need some extra support, and it’s time for you to start a conversation.
Changes in their physical appearance?
Changes in their mood?
Changes in their behaviour?
Changes in how their thoughts are expressed?
After stating the observed behaviour and expressing concern, ask clearly and directly, “Are you okay?” When guiding this discussion, we suggest:
Help them think about one or two things that can be done to manage the situation better. You could suggest they take some time out for themselves or do something fun or relaxing. Ask the following questions:
Good options for action might include talking to family, a trusted friend, doctor, or Employee Assistance Provider.
If you’ve found a particular strategy or health service useful, share it with them. You can say something like: “When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this… You might find it useful too.”
Be optimistic about the role of professionals in getting through tough times, but understand that it may take a bit of time to find the right one. You can find all sorts of help here: ruok.org.au/findhelp
Asking someone, ‘R U OK?’ is the start of a conversation. For workplace managers or colleagues, what is vitally essential is follow-up.
Having reached out and connected with someone suffering from a mental illness, it is essential to provide the support necessary for better health and keep monitoring for signs of improvement or ongoing issues.
Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of weeks, “I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to know how you’ve been going since we last chatted.”
Ask if they’ve found a better way to manage the situation. If they haven’t done anything, don’t judge them. They might need someone to listen to them for the moment.
Understand that sometimes it can take a long time for someone to be ready to see a professional. We can’t rush this or force someone to seek support. Instead, remain optimistic about the benefits of getting help and try not to judge them.
Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.