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Trust the Signs, ask your colleagues today, R U OK?

5 minute read

Today is R U OK? Day.

R U OK? Day is all about suicide prevention and erasing the stigma associated with mental health conditions, through the power of asking someone if they’re ok.

In 2009, Gavin Larkin started R U OK? Day to honour his father who tragically died from suicide in 1995. Gavin had a plan to change this behaviour Australia wide as he believed that having a conversation with someone, could change a life.

Sadly, Gavin passed away in 2011 as a result of cancer, but his message and passion for suicide prevention live on.

We might think that generally, the people in our lives are doing fine, but here are some scary statistics to think about:

  • Suicide kills more than 3,000 Australians each year.
  • Around eight people die each day in Australia from suicide.
  • Mental Health is the third most significant health problem in Australia, following heart disease and cancer.

It’s a harsh reality that even if we’re doing ok, the chances that we know someone who isn’t, are high.

This is why R U OK? Day is so important.

Although it’s great to ask someone how they are today, R U OK? Day is about year-round support, as people don’t just experience mental health issues in September.

So how do you go about it?

It can be hard to know what the best approach is when asking someone how they are. There can be a lot of self-doubts involved. You might be thinking, ‘will they be offended if I ask?’, ‘what if they think I’m invading their privacy?’, “what if they’re not ok and I say the wrong thing?’

Luckily, there are resources available that can help you.

To get a better understanding of what R U OK? Day means in the workplace, we spoke to PeoplePlus HR Business Partner, Michael McIntosh.

The workplace can be a challenging environment to talk about mental health. Unlike a close friend or a family member, we may not know our colleagues on a super personal level. Michael says that this is where workplace strategies can make the process easier.

“Talking openly about mental health issues in the workplace and engaging staff and managers in mental health awareness training is important in raising awareness and breaking the stigma in the workplace.

Promoting positive mental health and supporting events such as World Mental Health Day and R U OK? Day is also a good way to show staff that they have safety and support from management and their colleagues.”

When it comes to asking someone if they’re ok, there a few things to consider, firstly, you need to recognize that asking once, isn’t necessarily enough.

Checking in on someone is something you’ll have to be able to commit to. You’re not being asked to carry the weight of someone else’s struggles, but you do need to be able to offer support.

“A co-worker needs to be prepared. They must be in the correct frame of mind, be prepared to listen and provide the appropriate support effectively. You need to look after yourself as well. Supporting someone with a mental health issue may not be easy,” said Michael.

So, if by chance you notice a co-worker being distant or showing a lack of motivation in the workplace, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Take them to a safe and private place in the workplace.
  2. Ask them if they’re ok and gently tell them the changes you’ve noticed.
  3. Tell them you’re concerned and that you’re there to support them, free of judgment.
  4. Listen to what they have to say.
  5. Encourage change. Suggest they try to find a doctor or specialist to talk to.
  6. If they don’t wish to speak with you or a doctor, suggest that they speak to someone they trust, such as a loved one
  7. Continue to check-in

Letting someone know that they have people looking out for them can be life-changing. Remember to look out for the signs, take care of yourself and take care of others. The more we talk about mental health, the more we can make a difference.

Make today the start of a new and improved work environment where we don’t need a special day to remind us to be kind. By participating in R U OK? Day, you are already helping to educate and break the stigma associated with mental health.

If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support or someone to talk to, contact the Lifeline Australia hotline at 13 11 14, Beyond Blue at 1300 224 636 or the Kids Helpline (for ages 5-25) at 1800 55 1800.

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