Are they really ok?

Date published

09 Sep 2021

Did you know that each year, approximately one in five rural and remote Australians experience a mental illness? Life’s ups and downs happen to all of us. So, chances are someone you know might be struggling. That’s why, each year, the RFDS reminds everyone to check in with those around them to find out how they’re feeling and ask R U Ok?

This year’s theme for R U OK?Day is about empowering others to reach out to those they love and care about when they can see that someone is struggling with something big, something small, or just simply struggling — showing you care makes a huge impact and can possibly save a life.

The prevalence of mental health problems in remote and rural Australia is the same as that in major cities, but people living remotely have access to fewer services. This is why it is so important for the Flying Doctor, and other mental health organisations to deliver services to rural and remote communities.

RFDS Mental Health services have been around for 25 years now, delivering 12,156 mental health consultations across Queensland in the 2020/21 financial year. The services are delivered through four main state and federally-funded programs, including Central West Mental Health and Wellbeing Service, Far North Mental Health and Wellbeing Service, Outback Mental Health and headspace Cairns.

Along with the three main programs that sit directly with the Flying Doctor, the organisation also provides services through headspace Cairns. ‘R U OK?Day’ is an important campaign to the headspace Cairns team, as it helps to raise awareness and de-stigmatise conversations around mental health. The program provided 6,817 consultations to young people aged between 12 and 25 during the last financial year. Whilst at headspace, asking ‘R U OK?’ is a conversation held with young people every day, but its not always a topic discussed for the wider population. Having a day to celebrate and encourage these conversations helps to normalise talking about mental health. Giving a person the space and opportunity to share what’s on their mind can help ease some of the weight on their shoulders, and often reminds them that there are others around who care. Having a day like ‘R U OK?Day’ reminds people to ask the question to those around them, and can really make a difference to a person who may be experiencing some difficulties with their mental health.

The stigma around being open about our mental health has changed in the past 25 years. Going from the attitude of ‘grin and bear it’ to people being more comfortable to openly discuss their mental health struggles and the real effects of depression and anxiety. Still today though, we often find it difficult and are sometimes unsure of how to talk about these issues on a personal level. Whether that’s reaching out to someone yourself about your own struggles or checking in on someone about what they’re experiencing.

The RFDS Mental Health team have shared some useful tips on how to best approach somebody who may be struggling. This involves looking for signs, getting ready to ask, ‘R U OK?’, and having the conversation.

Signs it might be time to start an ‘R U OK?’ conversation

  • Its time to ask when you have noticed a change, no matter how small
  • Things to consider:
    • What’s going on in their life?
    • What are they doing?
    • What are they saying?

Getting ready to ask ‘R U OK?’

  • Be ready
  • Be prepared
  • Pick your moment

Having the conversation

  • Ask ‘R U OK?’
  • Listen
  • Encourage action
  • Check in

For more information click here.

RFDS Mental Health Manager for Far North Queensland, Jos Middleton, explains in more depth how to use these useful tips.

Consider – is this the right time? Am I the right person?

“It’s important to consider ‘is this the right time to ask this question?’ If you’re asking somebody in the workplace and they’re busily typing away at their desk, it’s probably not the best time. Equally if they’re on the school pick up, it’s probably not the best time either because you need to have the time to be present for the answer.

“It’s also worth considering are you the right person? You might have a little bit of history with that person which might suggest that it could be more appropriate for someone else to have the conversation. That doesn’t mean to say you don’t ask. It means that you might want to reach out to someone else who has a good relationship with that person and see if they have similar concerns and would be willing to check in with them.”

Focus on behaviour, explain why you’re concerned

Jos explains that a good approach to asking the question is to weave it into a natural conversation and identify that the person hasn’t seemed themselves recently.

“It helps if you can point out what behaviours you’ve seen, what symptoms you’ve noticed that have caused you to worry. So instead of just saying ‘R U OK?’ perhaps say ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve been looking a little tired recently. Is everything OK?’. By identifying a change in their behaviour or personality it takes the attention away from the person thinking that there’s something wrong with them and it focusses the attention on the behaviour or the symptom.”

If they’re not ready to talk, don’t push it, so long as they are safe, its ok if people don’t want to talk straight away. Let them know you are available if they change their mind, and also give them a flyer with contact details for mental health services on it, so that when that person is ready to access help, they know who to call.

If you ask someone are they OK an the answer is no, spend a little more time with the person

Take some time to understand what is happening for them, what it feels like for them, and perhaps consider has there been any big events in their life recently. It’s worth asking how long they’ve been feeling this way, have they felt this way before and if so, was there something that helped last time. Listen to the person non-judgmentally, and encourage some action, ask what they would like to do, is there anything you can support them with, or would they like to speak to a professional. Don’t forget to check in later to see if the situation has changed at all.

Jos encourages that wherever possible, its important that the person feels in control throughout the conversation.

A focus on what matters to you is a more positive approach when looking to support someone, rather than focusing on what’s the matter with you.

For further information on ‘R U OK?Day’ visit their website.

To find out more about RFDS Mental Health services visit the RFDS website.

If you or anyone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 anytime.

For additional information visit Lifeline or Beyond Blue.