R U Ok? Part 2
So you’ve been brave and asked “R U OK?” and the response was “No, no I’m not…”
Your heart races and you wonder what help they might need. It’s important to know that most people have tried to resolve their problems, so ask “what do you usually do when this happens…?”, “who do you usually talk with about this problem?”, “what do you think might help?”. While you aren’t trying to fix the problem, you are considering why their existing resources aren’t helping. Other times, it may highlight that the person feels stuck or unable to ask for help again. You are then able to encourage them into action, using comments such as “Can I help you do …”, “Could I help you talk with….” Or “That sounds like a great idea, can I help you do that?”.
Of course, if someone is starting to talk about their life having no meaning or that things are hopeless, it is appropriate to ask if they are feeling suicidal. In this case, we need to be more directive in saying things like, “Can we call (GP, partner, family etc) and let them know how serious this is?”. Let them know how worried you are for them, with affirming comments that “I’m really worried about how you’re feeling and I think we need to get someone on board today to really look at how we can help you”. If they decline the support and then say something like “don’t worry about it, I’ll be fine”, explain that you are worried and that it’s important. Seek guidance from someone you trust– if it’s late at night and you want to talk to an expert, you can call Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) and they can coach you through what you might do next.
Other difficult situations are when you may know someone isn’t coping, but they tell you everything is fine and you don’t get the chance to talk further. In these situations, what is most important is to let them know that you are there to talk to if they ever need it. Otherwise, if you’re really worried, you can talk to someone you know the person trusts – whether it’s a family member, a colleague or a friend. Simply highlight that you are worried about them, explain what you have observed and that you think it’s important that they check in with them.
Stigma is a key reason people may feel unable to say they need help. Stigma can be an internal belief (self-stigma) or an external perception maintained by a community (however you choose to define community – this may be work, friendships or more broadly, social attitudes). To understand the impact of stigma generally, consider it to represent judgements – we judge ourselves and we judge others. The more people understand suicidality and the importance of help seeking, the greater our ability to tackle stigma. Suicide Prevention Australia released survey data1 that highlights the importance of busting myths around suicide – including that people talking about suicide just want attention. Such myths are damaging to suicide prevention and don’t reflect the facts that these are warning signs and can precede death by suicide. These are signs that we can act on. People are more likely to ask for help, if they don’t feel stigmatised and isolated.
Finally! Follow up. While R U OK? Day is about starting a conversation, it’s a day that encourages us to take action and make every day R U OK? Day. What we know about suicide prevention is that the more connected and meaningful our relationships, the less likely someone is to feel that they can’t ask for help when they need it. Think about how you might make the following changes in your life – whether that is at work, with your family, community or friends.
Key actions that we all “have what it takes” are:
Ask – “R U OK?”
Listen – no judgement and with compassion
Encourage Action – Support them to act
Check In – Follow up – every day can be an “R U OK?” Day day
Senior Psychologist, Procare Group