Lesson 2 - How to ask R U OK?

Connection is good for us all, so reach out to someone you care about and ask them, "Are you OK?" You don't have to be an expert to support someone who is going through a tough time. You just need to listen to their concerns without judgment and take the time to follow up with them.

Here are some simple steps to start and follow through with a conversation.

1. Ask them, "Are you OK?"

  • Start a general conversation, preferably at a private location.
  • Build their trust through good eye contact, and open and relaxed body language.
  • Ask open-ended questions, such as:

"What's been happening? How are you doing?"

"I've noticed that... What's going on with you at the moment?"

"You don't seem like yourself, and I'm wondering if you are OK?

"Is there anything that's causing you to feel this way?"

2. Listen without judgment

Guide the conversation with caring questions giving them time to reply.Don't rush to solve problems for them.Help them understand that solutions are available when they're ready to explore options.
"How has that made you feel?"
"How long have you felt this way?"
"What do you think caused you to react in this way?"

3. Encourage action

  • Summarize the issues and ask them what they plan to do.
  • Encourage them to take one first step, such as see their doctor.

"What do you think might help your situation?"
"Have you considered making an appointment with your doctor?"
"Would you like me to make an appointment or come with you?"

4. Follow up

  • Put a note in your diary to call them in one week. If they're desperate, follow up sooner.
  • Ask if they've managed to take that first step and see someone.
  • If they didn't find this experience helpful, urge them to try a different professional; and let them know that there's someone out there who can help them.
"How are things going? Did you speak with your doctor?"
"What did they suggest? What did you think of their advice?"
"You've had a busy time. Would you like me to make the appointment?"

5. Dealing with denial?

  • If they deny the problem, don't criticize them, acknowledge that they're not ready to talk.
  • Tell them you're still concerned about changes in their behavior and let them know that you care about them.
  • If they don't feel things are better after your conversation, ask if you can speak with them again the following week.
  • Avoid a confrontation unless it's necessary to prevent them from hurting themselves or hurting someone else.

    "It's OK if you don't want to discuss it right now, but call me when you're ready to talk."

    "Can we meet next week for a chat?"
    "Is there someone else you'd rather discuss this with?"

6. What if you think the person is actually considering suicide?

If you're worried that someone you know is having a tough time or having suicidal thoughts, it's important that you give them an opportunity to talk about it. Find a quiet, private space to ask them how they're feeling and whether they've had any thoughts about suicide. Speak in a calm, confident and non-judgmental manner to help them feel supported and reassured.

If someone says they're thinking about suicide, it's important that you take it seriously. Tell the person that you care about them and you want to help. Don't become agitated, angry or upset. Explain that thoughts of suicide are common but don't have to be carried out.

It's also essential that you determine whether they've already formulated a plan to take their life. Try to find out if they've decided how they'll kill themselves or if they've begun to take steps to end their life. If you find that they have, it's critical you do NOT leave them alone and do NOT use guilt or threats to prevent suicide. Even if someone says they haven't made a plan for suicide, you still need to take it seriously. Lack of a plan does NOT guarantee their safety. Get immediate professional help or call an emergency help line, such as Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. 

People who are thinking about suicide may signal their suicidal intentions to others. In other cases, there may be no warning at all. It's therefore critical that you regularly engage with family, friends and colleagues and provide them with the attention and time to ask them how they're doing.

7. What if I can't speak to them face-to-face?

  • Use the same steps above and talk to them by phone.
  • Avoid calling from a noisy place or while traveling.
  • If they're in a rush, make a time to call them back.

Remember that they can't see your face, so it's important to verbally indicate your support.

"I wanted to call you and talk a little about how you're doing. Is now a good time?"

"It sounds like you're busy or in a rush. When is a good time to call you back and talk for a few minutes? 

This information is from Australia's R U OK? Foundation. Website: www.ruokday.com