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Asking R U OK? more important than ever

9 September 2021

OPINION ARTICLE: Published September 9, 2021, in the Newcastle Herald

By Everymind Director, Dr Jaelea Skehan OAM

Today is R U OK? Day, a national day dedicated to reminding us to check in regularly with family and friends.

I am a long-time supporter of the R U OK? movement and have been involved on a number of their advisory groups. But this year might be the hardest year yet for the R U OK? message.

Not because it isn’t needed; in fact, it is probably needed more than ever before. But quite frankly, a lot of us are really not feeling okay at all.

Many small business owners who are worried about how they’re going to keep their business, family and staff afloat are not okay.

Parents and carers trying to juggle work, home schooling and parenting are not okay.

Our children and young people who are missing social interaction, study time and important milestones are not okay.
Older people living alone or in residential aged care, who are isolated from their loved ones and concerned about the impacts of COVID, are not okay.

People right across the community, whose symptoms of mental illness are worsening because of additional stress and reduced options for support, are not okay either.

I am a firm believer in the power of the individual to make a difference and have seen first-hand in my personal and professional life that a conversation can indeed change a life. But the opportunity for conversations and the opportunity to connect have been challenged like never before.

It can feel hard to reach out and support others when our own tanks are so low.

At a time when most of us are at different degrees of not okay, perhaps we need to lean into the R U OK? message a little differently this year. It must be a lot less about a social media post, wearing a yellow T-shirt, or a token morning tea via Zoom, and much more about how we are going to adapt the question to the current situation.

Ask yourself R U OK?

Today might be a good day to pay attention to how you are travelling and ask, “am I really okay?”.

If the answer is no, please don’t ignore it. Take action for yourself and make a plan to do something for your own wellbeing. Perhaps change up your routine, renegotiate what is expected of you at home and at work, add in exercise, connect with a friend or reach out to a service.

Ask others if they are ‘really’ okay?

Pay attention to those around you or those you haven’t heard from for a while. Reach out today and connect – or set a reminder to do it in the next few days. Be prepared to not only ask R U OK? but whether they are ‘really’ okay? Having a conversation can change a person’s life – but the courage is in getting the conversation started.

Talk to your children about the R U OK? message

Being locked down together is tough on families, but there is also an opportunity to talk to children about the R U OK? Day message and the importance of checking in with themselves and with others.

It can also offer an opportunity to talk to young people about difficult topics. The #Chatstart campaign was kicked off last month to encourage parents and young people to open up and talk about how they are coping, or not.

Learn to ask R U OK? in different ways

Not everyone experiences emotional distress as isolated events or in response to current situations. For the people in our lives who are living with emotional distress or suicidal thoughts, the R U OK? question can feel tokenistic and trivialising.

A better option may be to ask, “are you safe?” or “is there anything I can do to support you?”. Remember that days like R U OK? Day and also World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow can be challenging for some people.

Our connection to others is what builds us up and keeps us strong.

Having people sit beside us when times are good and when times are bad can make all the difference. A problem shared is a problem halved. As we all work through the fatigue of continued lockdowns, disconnection and disappointment, don’t dismiss the R U OK? message.

And if today, you are not okay, and no one reaches out to ask you, remember there are always people willing to listen.

Try one of these numbers or online chat services below.

Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au

Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800 or kidshelpline.com.au

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au

Learn to steps to ask R U OK? at www.ruok.org.au

It is probably needed more than ever before ... but quite frankly, a lot of us are really not feeling okay at all.