Asking Some Simple Questions Could Help Save a Life

Mental health expert, Rachael Clements, sheds some light on how to help loved ones struggling with mental illness.

Each year in Australia, one in five people are affected by mental health issues

With such a huge prevalence in our society, movements like R U OK? Day are key to de-stigmatising and helping educate people on mental illness, as well as highlighting resources to assist those in need.

This year, R U OK? Day is focusing on a theme of reconnecting with people in your life

Mental health expert Rachael Clements explores some very important questions we should asking family and friends who could be going through a tough time.

How can we identify a family member, colleague or friend who may need help?

There are a few early warning signs which might indicate someone is struggling.

It could be a general decline in physical health; being constantly run down, reduced immunity, muscle aches and pains, skin conditions, such as acne or eczema, looking tired or less well-groomed, or a significant weight loss or gain.

Withdrawing from work colleagues, friends, family and avoiding socialising are other potential indicators. The person could be angry, irritable, frustrated and have outbursts at situations which wouldn't normally bother someone. They may start feeling down, worrying excessively or begin to lose confidence.

Is there a good time and a bad time to ask someone if they're okay? How can you best pick your timing?

It’s best to choose a time where you have the opportunity to support the person and to take follow-up action if required, hence last thing on Friday afternoon is not an ideal time.

Mornings can be best as it gives you an opportunity to link in appropriate people to help support or even just monitor how the person is after your interaction. Try to put aside adequate time in your diary so you don’t need to rush.

How can you be prepared for a conversation with someone who says they aren’t ok?

It’s best to arrange a private and informal conversation in a location the person feels comfortable.

Next, have an idea of what you are going to say and how you will approach the topic: What have you observed that has caused you to reach out? Who is available to help if required; for example, “thanks for talking with me. I just wanted to check in as I’ve noticed a change in you over the last couple of weeks, in that you don’t seem to be yourself… Are you ok?”

It’s important to remember that the key role here is to offer a non-judgemental space for the person to express themselves. Active listening, good eye contact, open and relaxed body language and gentle encouragement to take action are the key ingredients. Try to end the conversation on what steps can be taken to get the relevant help.

What should you do if a person says they are ok, but your gut feeling is that they aren’t?

The first thing is to express your genuine concern and desire to support and assist. If there is reluctance you could ask them if there is someone else they would feel more comfortable talking to such as a GP, family member or friend. It's important that you don't give up as gentle persistence is often required. Express your concern again in few days' time.

What’s the best thing to do if someone says they are contemplating taking their life?

If someone says they’re thinking of suicide it’s important to take the comment seriously and don’t panic. Explain that thoughts of suicide are common and that you would like to support them by linking them with someone who can help such as a GP, counsellor or psychologist. If you are workplace acquaintances, you can access this through a workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If you think someone is at immediate risk call 000 and ask for an ambulance and stay by their side until help arrives.

If you or someone you know needs professional support contact lifeline on 13 11 14.

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