News • 07 Sep 2022

How to start a conversation about mental health on R U OK? Day

How to start a conversation about mental health on R U OK? Day

R U OK? Day has gained traction in recent years as an important way to empower people to meaningfully connect and lend support in relation to mental health.

Having a conversation about someone’s mental health, including your own, can be daunting. But with the right tools and understanding, it is possible to be more confident asking the question R U OK?

Georgia McGirvan, Community Development Officer at headspace Indooroopilly provides some guidance about starting and navigating a conservation about someone’s mental health.

“Firstly, it is vital to choose the right time and place to start the conversation,” Georgia said. “Things to consider before asking someone if they are okay are:

  1. Are you in a calm and positive frame of mind, with time to genuinely listen?
  2. Are you both in an environment free of interruption and distraction?
  3. Are you prepared for the possibility this person may share their emotional vulnerability with you?

“Our clinical staff at headspace have observed that people are more likely to open up when there is movement involved, for example, while driving or walking together,” she said. “The benefits of starting a conversation while driving or walking is that there are less chances for interruption, and some people prefer to speak without making eye contact.

“Secondly, you need to respectfully listen to their response. If you are seeing signs that someone is not okay, but they insist they are fine, it is best not to pressure or criticise the person for not wanting to talk about it.”

Instead, Georgia suggests asking if they would feel more comfortable talking to someone else, or simply check back in another time.

“Continue to look for signs that demonstrate this person may need support, normalise help seeking behaviour and let them know you are available if they ever want to talk,” said Georgia.

“If someone lets you know they are not okay, give them time to talk. Listen without judgement and resist the urge to start problem solving.

“Repeating back to the person what they have said and asking for confirmation you have understood correctly will demonstrate you have listened and will validate their experience.”

Georgia acknowledges that people may feel they can’t ask someone if they are okay because they are not experts in mental health, however she reassures that is not the case.

“The great thing about R U OK? Day is that it’s a conversation starter and can lead to more specific information about what someone needs, so please don’t be afraid to ask,” she said.

“After asking the question, the next step is to take action. In some cases that could mean simply making time to do something together that brings them joy or helps them to relax. In other cases, you may need to encourage them to seek support such as making an appointment with their GP to access a mental health plan,” said Georgia.

Through her work at headspace, Georgia observes young people doing a remarkable and courageous job of breaking down the stigma of seeking support for mental health.

e-headspace is a confidential, free and safe space to seek mental health support for young people (aged 12 to 25) and those concerned about a young person.

e-headspace offers professional services such as 1-to-1 chat, community chats and useful resources to build a personal mental health toolkit. It is a gentle introduction to mental health support for people not yet ready to seek face to face support.

Open Minds operates headspace centres at Redcliffe, Strathpine and Indooroopilly. For more information about headspace, please visit our website.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate support, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or other services listed here.