In honour of R U OK? Day on September 14, we speak to conversation expert and clinical psychologist Rachel Clements on the best way to ask – R U OK?
“R U OK? was started by Gavin Larkin in 2009 to address one of the biggest personal challenges in his life – explaining to his kids why their grandfather wasn’t around,” says R U OK? CEO Brendan Maher.
“In 1995, much-loved Barry Larkin was far from OK. His suicide left family and friends in deep grief and with endless questions. In 2009, his son Gavin Larkin chose to champion just one question to honour his father and to try and protect other families from the pain his endured.”
To genuinely change behaviour Australia-wide, a national campaign was needed. From this realisation, and with Gavin and his supporters' expertise and passion, the R U OK? organisation was born.
For 2017, the theme is ‘You’ve got what it takes’, which Brendan explains is based on the idea that we’ve all got what it takes to look out for one another and support those who may be struggling with life.
It’s important to check in on those near and dear to us, and others in our wider circles and communities.
Here, we ask to conversation expert and clinical psychologist Rachel Clements how to check up and check in, and how to navigate to navigate a conversation when someone says “no, I’m not OK”.
What are the signs to look for in our friends, family, and workmates?
There are various signs and symptoms that can indicate someone is not OK. These can fall under the following categories: physical, behaviours, thoughts and moods.
• Constantly tired, run down or feeling unwell
• Headaches or muscle pains
• Heart concerns or palpitations
• Change of appetite (eating more or less) or diet changes (not eating healthily)
• Physical appearance changes (looking drained, less groomed) or skin changes (acne, eczema)
• Tremor or fidget
• Withdrawal from social interaction
• Absenteeism or excessive work hours
• Relying on caffeine or energy drinks to stay alert during the day
• Regularly consuming medications for headaches, sleeping difficulties, aches or pains
• Conflict or tension with others
• Unable to concentrate or stay focused
• Memory difficulties or decreased performance
• Increased drug or alcohol use
• Negative (e.g. constant catastrophising)
• Over personalising situations
• Guilty feelings
• Unexplained irritability or easily frustrated
• Emotional including overreaction to situations
• Lacking confidence
• Anxious or worried
Are the signs different for men and women?
Although the signs and symptoms summarised above are quite common indicators of someone who is not OK, for both men and women, there are some gender differences. For instance:
• Women are more likely to ruminate when feeling depressed
• Women are more likely to discuss their feelings and seek help early on
• Men who are experiencing depression are more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs, and disconnect from others
• Symptoms of depression for men may be more difficult to identify than women. For instance, some men may try to hide their emotions if they are having a tough time, and instead of appearing upset or depressed, they may come across as angry, irritable or aggressive
• For these reasons, men are more likely to experience more severe depression than women, their depression left undiagnosed or untreated, and they are also more likely to commit suicide (75% of deaths by suicide are from men)
The R U OK? organisation came about to encourage meaningful face to face connection. Do you feel this is something that’s becoming more difficult in our digital era?
In a way yes as the ever increasing advances of technology may make some individuals less confident to approach another person and discuss a sensitive topic. Additionally, a lot of individuals may not be comfortable in their ability to respond to certain non-verbal cues due to their reliance on digital communication, making it challenging to manage an unpredictable or emotional situation.
However, on the other hand, our digital era makes way for an extremely accessible and easy platform for communication. For instance, it is easier than ever to reach out and make contact – 24/7 access to phone calls, texts, social media platforms and even emails allow individuals to connect even if they are physically distanced from one another.
Although, meaningful face to face connection is encouraged and endorsed, digital connection can act as a great initial reach out or as a quick follow-up message after meeting.
So how do you ask, R U OK? What’s the best way to approach someone we feel might be suffering in silence?
There is a 4-step Conversation Model, which you can follow, to check in with someone who may not be travelling so well.
1. Ask R U OK?
3. Encourage Action
4. Follow up
For more information and more details on how to ask R U OK?, go here.
If you are worried someone may be suicidal, contact Lifeline here for crisis support.