Are they really okay? There’s more to say after R U OK?

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TRIGGER WARNING – this blog talks about mental health and suicide. R U OK? day has rolled around again. In Australia Thursday the 9th of September 2021 is like 2020. and one of the more difficult R U OK? days. Why? Because 2021 is clearly ALSO the year of COVID-19 and in places like Australia and even in the United States there are also other issues to contend with, like bushfires and natural disasters. So the theme of R U OK Day 2021 is are they really okay, which follows on from the 2020 theme: there’s more to say after R U OK?


PS we are not counsellors or psychologists or medical professionals. This blog provides information sourced from RU OK day resources and from the recent MHFA Accredited First Aid Training Jane completed. We always recommend you seek help from a qualified professional. If however we can help people realise it’s ok not to be ok, we will do what we can to put out information.


R U OK Day 2020 and 2021 – far more stress than normal

Normally people face stress. Lives this year have been made far worse by what I deem the #crisistrifecta. Not only are we facing the health issues (including mental health) created by coronavirus COVID-19, but also the financial difficulties over six months of business disruption and business shutdowns have caused.

In addition, people are not talking about what to some people is actually the biggest impact on their mental health, the final crisis which makes up the #crisistrifecta – the lifestyle crisis. 

The Lifestyle Crisis

We can’t just do what we used to do anymore. It’s becomes a case of where am I going? Do I need to pack a mask or two or three? Do I need to worry about carrying sanitiser? Should I take gloves to use at the fuel station. It’s all those little things that add up. And on top, we’ve had things like home schooling at times when the schools shut down due to a COVID-19 case, or whole lockdowns like Melbourne is still experiencing right now. These things upset people and uncertainty causes concerns, builds anxiety and increases panic attacks. They may resort to alcohol or substance use in order to cope.

Step one – ask R U OK?

First of all, we need to remember to ask R U OK not just on R U OK day, but throughout the year. And that is in part why I’m putting this blog up a day early to show this issue needs to be something we do all year.

So the first point is, how do you ask R U OK? Now obviously you can just ask, particularly on R U OK day. Ask R U OK in previous years, it’s almost just become a bit of a laugh. It’s often been R U OK? Yeah I’m ok, haha. But with Covid it’s not the same. 2020 and 2021 there’s a far higher chance the person is going to answer you with: No, I’m not ok.


Your gut instinct – are they ok?

Your gut instinct, and your observation around people changing, and what are your key things to notice when something is going wrong with somebody around you, particularly with someone you love or someone you meet with regularly.

Even yesterday, I was on an online meeting with a client and he mentioned at the start that he had had a bad day and he had some issues. To be honest I failed him in the moment as I could have asked a few questions and see if he wanted to open up some more. He didn’t seem to want to talk at the time, however reaching out to him today with some follow-up notes, I will make sure to let him know I noticed he wasn’t his usual self and that it is ok not to be ok, and it is ok to reach out for help.

What can you ask in lieu of R U OK?

What can you ask to say R U OK apart from asking the obvious? If you have noticed changes, then it is perfectly ok to note them. For instance I’ve noticed a few changes in you and you’ve been a bit quiet lately. Is there anything you want to share? Or How are things for you at the moment? Alternatively I see you’ve been through a bit of stress lately separating from your partner, how are things going for you? Or You just don’t seem to be yourself lately. Anything you want to talk about? You are signalling to them there is something outwardly different about them, which makes it harder for them to brush it off. Rather than simply saying R U OK, which makes it really easy to say yeah I’m fine.


What if they say I’m fine?

So if they do say yeah I’m fine then look at your gut reaction. Does it feel like a genuine yes and they seem fine? Well, that’s ok. Make it a practice of checking in on them again in the future. If they say fine, but your gut reaction is they’re not fine, then maybe ask them a little bit more. Ask them something else if they’re not quite ready to talk yet. So it could be again it’s just that you don’t seem like yourself lately. Or it could be a simple I’m here if you want to have a chat. 

If you strongly believe they’re not ok, then you might want to say something a little more direct like, if you’re not ready to talk that’s ok. I’m always here for you. Or reach out to someone you trust. Ideally encourage them to take action when they are ready, and to reach out to someone.

Step two – listen: What if they say I’m not okay?

If they do answer the question with a no I’m not ok, then obviously you need to know what to do next. There is a high likelihood at this time, they will say no and you’ll need to know what to say. This is where active listening comes into play. Active listening is when we listen to the person not with the intention of responding, but with the intention of understanding what they are saying.

Be empathetic, but don’t bring yourself into the equation. Asking things like have you been feeling this way for a while or if something bad has happened to them recently you could say something like I’m not going to pretend to know what it’s like for you, but I am here to listen.

You may even ask something like Have you looked into getting any help? or take a softer approach like Thank you for sharing this with me. That can’t have been easy for you.


Step three – encourage action

Once you’ve taken the time to ask the question, and to listen to their answer, the next step is to encourage action. Because let’s face it, even in my situation where I am an MHFA Accredited First Aider, I am only a first aider. I’m there to provide quick help on the spot. But the intention is to pass them onto a far more qualified professional than me. Think about asking them some questions again, but with the intention of encouraging action. For instance, What do you think the first step is that would help you get through this? Or What can I do right now to support you? Even What’s something you enjoy doing which might help you take your mind off it for at least a few minutes?

There are plenty of resources you can look into at the bottom of this blog.

Reaching out to health professionals

Do you think it would help you to talk to someone else about these things? Maybe a health professional like your doctor? Remembering doctors have the power to give referrals to psychologists under a mental health plan covered in Australia by Medicare for a certain number of sessions. You could ask them, Has this happened before, and was there something you did in the past to help overcome it?

Many people need help and some are getting it

Do remember because of the stress of COVID-19, the lifestyle crisis, the health crisis and the financial crisis that’s been created, many people are simply finding it difficult to cope. Many people are actually behind the scenes getting help. You may be surprised how many people when I’ve bought up the fact I’ve recently done the mental health first aider accredited training, how many people say they’ve been to see a psychologist.

Step four – check-in

The final of the four steps is to check-in. Let them know you will check-in on them again. I’d like to keep checking-in on you is that OK? It’s a good idea to ask for permission. Almost never force things upon people. Don’t force them to go see a doctor or force them to go into a drug and alcohol centre. You want to encourage them in a gentle friendly and non-judgemental way. Hence watch your words like alcohol use not alcohol abuse.

Support services including emergency services

Do remember, if they have gone too far, if there is a life at risk – either themselves or someone else, because they’ve had something like a psychotic break, or they’re having a bad trip on drugs, then you may need to take some action to protect themselves, yourself or others.

There are plenty of services that provide support for different scenarios. There are support for tradies, support for businesses, for parents, for sufferers. Organisations like Beyond Blue have lots of resources, as do Headspace. Refer them directly to Lifeline or similar if they are talking suicide and while we are talking suicide …

Don’t ask if they’re going to harm themselves

There was old thinking saying if you mentioned to someone are you thinking about harming yourself or are you thinking about suicide, you were encouraging them to do so. This old thinking has been completely reversed.

It is still not recommended you ask someone if they’re going to harm themselves, but for a different reason. Because many people do not see suicide as harming themselves, they see suicide as taking away their pain. So it actually gives some pleasure and it is something to look out for. If a person has been very down and suddenly they’re almost in a euphoric state for no reason, sometimes it is because they’ve made the decision to end their life and the decision has put themselves out of their misery.

It IS OK to ask someone if they are thinking about suicide

If someone does show any form of suicidal tendencies, be completely upfront with them. Ask the question are you thinking of suicide? Please do not use the word commit. Commit is linked with criminal activity and negativity so do not say committed suicide or are you looking to commit suicide? Are you looking to suicide? Are you looking to end your life by suicide? Something like that is far more appropriate. Regardless do ask the direct question. You are likely to find if they are, they may open up and they may say yeah I have and that’s where you definitely encourage them to call Lifeline or see a family doctor or health professional. Ideally check-in to make sure they do.

In summary, don’t be afraid to ask R U OK?

So in summary, R U OK day should be every day of the year. If you ever feel a gut instinct something’s not right, raise the issue. Don’t be afraid. Follow the 4 steps, going through the process of asking R U OK or equivalent question. Listening to the response. Encouraging them to take action where required. Finally letting them know you would like to check-in on them again.

Utilise available resources

Remember if they do say they’re not ok there are plenty of resources you can look into (refer below for a starter list), or they can look into to help them out. But remember if it is a life-threatening emergency then Lifeline is your best bet.

Also has produced a fantastic conversation guide. You can download it from their website.

Sometimes I may ask R U OK?

My name is Jane Tweedy, I’m the Founder of FAQ Business Training. I am a MHFA Mental Health First Aid Accredited First Aider. At times when having a session with you one on one, I may ask you if you are ok. I will ask you some questions if I think you’re not being your usual self. Please do not be offended. I am simply making sure you really are ok. We’re all human, and remember it is ok not to be ok! Sometimes however we need help to become ok again. You go to a doctor for a broken arm, why not a doctor for a mental health issue?

Australian Mental Health Resources

If you’re not in Australia, or prefer a local resource, please do a search online for mental health support, suicide prevention, crisis line etc.

R U OK dayR U OK Day resources
LifelineCrisis line Phone13 11 14
Beyond BlueMental health resources and assistance
Head to HealthNew government mental health resource website
Black Dog InstituteHelp dealing with depression and mental health
HeadspaceResources for youth
Kids HelpLineFor kids and YA aged 5-25 and their parents
Family Drug SupportFamily Drug Support
MHFAMental Health First Aider Accreditation

About FAQ Business Training

If this is the first time you’ve come across us you may want to know who we are! FAQ Business Training has a mission to educate and empower small business owners to learn enough to do it yourself (DIY) or outsource with confidence. We do this via face to face training in Western Sydney (currently all training is provided online), speaking at conferences, events and networking groups and we have launched our online school and membership, offering online courses and webinars to appeal to a global (English speaking) audience. Connect with us on Facebook or LinkedIn.


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