How to Ask a Loved One R U OK?

A conversation can save a life.

It’s a simple fact most of us know by now, but RUOK day is always a timely reminder. Today, September 8th, the team behind the suicide prevention nonprofit has an important message: You don’t need to be an expert to reach out—just a good friend and a great listener. For a country where asking ‘how are ya’ is second nature, research by the RUOK organisation found that Australians still feel asking someone if they’re okay (really) is a conversation better had with an expert, despite those very experts saying it’s the initial chat with a mate that can make the biggest difference. If you’ve got a mate or a family member who you think might be struggling, here’s how to start things off.



If you’ve noticed a friend or family member isn’t acting like their usual self (like Tommy not coming along to Wednesday night footy or Sophie not picking up your calls for the third week in a row), use these changes in behaviour as segues to a conversation. It can be as simple as a text and doesn’t need to be full interrogation spec. If someone is not ready to open up yet, that’s okay too. Dr Grant Blashki, the Lead Clinical Advisor for Beyond Blue, says the most important thing is that ‘you’ve opened the door and they might come back to you if they want to. They know that you care, they know that you’re interested, and so that in itself is really valuable.’


No one is expecting you to have the answers or be able to fix all of life’s problems, but simply being there while someone lets it out is a huge help in itself. Acknowledging someone’s feelings takes the pressure off them when they’re struggling, as one of the harder aspects of mental illness that people grapple with is the guilt or confusion for feeling down when the other aspects of their life (be it work, relationships or health) are all doing great. Everything is all good out there, so why isn’t it all good in here? Trust your gut if their answer feels off, too, because most people naturally don’t want to burden others.


When someone does open up about not being okay, linking them up with some expert help is always a good idea. If it’s urgent, Lifeline and Beyond Blue are recommended. Otherwise, offer to book them into a local GP so they can get set up with a mental health plan (10 free psychological sessions a year available to everyone in Australia). Maybe you could drive them to their first appointment and get brekkie after.


The reality that mental health issues are ongoing is even more reason why we need to continuously check in with our friends. Even when friends get themselves through the other side of the big sads, it can creep back over time (and more often than not, does). Even if your loved ones aren’t necessarily experiencing mental health issues, shit happens every day for people to be stressed and upset about. And remember, you can ask anyone if they are okay, any day of the year.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 — 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, or get in touch with Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, chat online or email.

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