We all have days when we feel upset or anxious, but it can become more than just a bad day when life’s stresses and challenges build up and get on top of us. Reaching out and telling someone may seem like the obvious thing to do from the outside, but not everyone finds it easy to ask for help.
That’s where you come in. If someone you care about – maybe a friend, coworker, family member, flatmate or neighbour – doesn’t seem like themselves or is acting unusually, trust your gut instinct and just ask ‘Are you okay?’ to begin what could be a life-changing conversation.
Before you even ask the question, you need to make sure you’re ready: that means in a good headspace, willing to genuinely listen, and able to give the person you’re talking to as much time as they need. Remember when you ask someone if they’re okay the answer could be no and you need to be prepared for that.
You can’t fix someone else’s problems, but there is a lot you can do. Also keep in mind that they might not be ready to talk about it, or they just might not want to talk to you about it. Or they might indeed be okay! When you are ready to ask, pick the right place and time: private, comfortable and not rushed is best.
Once you feel ready to ask, the R U OK? charity organisation recommends a 4-step approach to starting and continuing this important discussion:
- Ask – opt for a concerned but friendly and relaxed approach, mentioning specific observations that led you to ask the question like ‘I’ve noticed you seem quieter than usual. How are you going?’ Encourage the person to open up and share their feelings by asking other questions like ‘What’s been happening?’ If they’re not ready to talk, that’s okay. You’ve let them know you care and that you’re there if they do ever want to chat.
- Listen – don’t interrupt, don’t rush them and try not to judge. Acknowledge what they’re saying and take it seriously. Once the conversation is flowing, you can ask follow-up questions to help them open up even more like ‘How do you feel about that?’ Once they’ve shared what’s going on, it can help to repeat back what you’ve heard (in your own words) to check you’ve understood.
- Encourage action – ask about coping strategies the person has used in the past to deal with similar situations, ask what you can do to help, and ask what ideas they have for improving things. Don’t be afraid to share your similar experiences and what worked for you. Suggest professional help if you think it could be beneficial, for example if they’ve felt really down for more than 2 weeks.
- Check in – follow up with the person in a couple of weeks, or sooner if they’re really struggling. Say you’ve been thinking about them and wanted to check in, and ask how they’re managing the situation. Don’t judge if they haven’t taken any action – they may just need time to think things through. Stay in touch to let them know you’re there for them whenever they need you. Knowing someone cares is a powerful thing!