Asking R U OK? during mental health month
After I tell the story of my depressive episode during my presentations, I ask people to raise their hand if they know someone – either in their personal life or at work – who lives with depression or an anxiety disorder. To everyone’s amazement they find that most of the audience raises their hand. This isn’t surprising when a survey by the Wesley Mission revealed that 85% of Australians know someone close to them who lives with a mental illness. In the workplace, the Medibank report Sick at Work showed that mood disorders account for 34% of all lost productivity through absenteeism and presenteeism (people are at work but not fully productive).
Despite this, in research I completed with over 4000 people living with a mood disorder, only 15% felt comfortable discussing their condition with their work colleagues.
Identifying the discouraged
We usually identify the discouraged by observing a change in behaviour. Someone who is usually punctual is regularly late, or isolates themselves from social activity, or loses interest in their appearance etc. Sometimes it can be a change in body language, or not being able to hold eye contact, or not laughing like they used to.
Why don’t people ask “Are you OK?” (R U OK?)
In research we undertook when we were planning the R U OK?atWork Program, people nominated 2 main reasons why they felt uncomfortable asking R U OK?:
- They didn’t know how to start the conversation.
- They didn’t know what to do if someone said they were not OK.
How to ask R U OK?
We advocate a 4 step approach (to register for the workplace program on Thursday September 13 and access free help sheets and videos go to www.ruokday.com.au ):
Break the ice – talk about the weather, sport, fashion, to build rapport – then make an observation about their change in behaviour and ask R U OK?
Listen without judgement – rarely is the first thing offered the full story so it is important to keep asking questions. We are not asking you to be a counsellor – just a concerned friend who is seeking to have a good understanding of the situation.
Encourage action – it is essential that if they admit they aren’t coping that you encourage them to take action – to see a GP, call a helpline, or access on line help.
Follow up – as you will have found, when someone is discouraged there is often inertia. It is wise to follow up and even to make an appointment for them.
Asking R U OK? with compassion and empathy will greatly increase the likelihood that the discouraged person will listen to your suggestions. Put yourself in their shoes – how would you like to be asked if you weren’t feeling great?