R U OK day – what to say when you are NOT OK

by | Mar 9, 2023 | Uncategorized

The Australian R U OK campaign is a fantastic initiative which was unfortunately brought on by heartache. The Larkin family were devastated in 1995 when out of the blue they lost their Dad to suicide. Suicide has enormous implications and many unanswered questions for those left behind. The rise of R U OK day has encouraged us to enquire about the wellbeing of others. In my years as a Psychologist I have sat with many people dealing with depression and anxiety – ranging from mild to debilitating. Something that most of them have had in common is that they often don’t know how to get help or feel helpless knowing how to communicate that they need help.

Depression and Anxiety are essentially ‘invisible’ disorders which are fairly easy to hide from others. Even with people asking ‘R U OK’ sufferers of depression sometimes feel the need to make an effort to appear to be happy on the outside when in reality on the inside they are miserable.

Of course, in a perfect world everyone would honestly answer the ‘R U OK’ question with ‘Yeh – I’m good’. Unfortunately some people who answer in this way will not really mean it. They answer in this way for many reasons – it’s socially accepted; they don’t feel like going into their hassles; they are programmed that way.

However, if you are NOT OK but are asked by some well-meaning person ‘R U OK’ it would be of great benefit to you if you can consider how you might answer this question.

If the person asking you doesn’t have the power, motivation or connection with you to help you ‘fix’ your feelings then say to them ‘I’m not really OK but I don’t think there is anything you can do about it but thanks for asking anyway’.

But if a boss, a partner, a co-worker or a friend asks then it would be reasonable to say something like ‘I’m not OK but I don’t think I’m up to talking about it right now’. This response then flags to them that you might need some further help.

Or you might answer by saying ‘I’m not OK and I’m really struggling but I’ve got no idea what to do about it’. This last response will potentially release a torrent of advice. Unfortunately well-meaning advice is not ideal as the receiver can find it condescending, inappropriate, or a complete waste of time.

A more powerful response is for you to say ‘I am not OK and I think there is something you can do to help me please’.  This will then open up a conversation and subsequent action to help you get back on track. You will have thought about what it is you really need for help. You will be able to take up the generous, appropriate and genuine offers of help that come your way.

I ask that if you are NOT ‘OK’ then please seek help. Hopefully you will be fortunate enough to have others enquiring how they can help. If you can honestly acknowledge that you are struggling, and know what to ask for, then the outcomes will have much more potential for you. So, think about what you need – and how you can share your issues to get genuine and effective help.

Thank you to those genuine caring people who ask ‘R U OK’. If you do ask someone and they say they are ‘Not OK’ then you may like to read my article ‘What do you say when they R NOT OK’

 About the author: Lindsay Spencer-Matthews, the Great Change Maker, specialises in helping people have a rich, full and meaningful life in spite of their circumstances.  Through Speaking Events, Mentoring and Workshops Lindsay stops clever people doing dumb things! He strives to give people the opportunity to enjoy psychological flexibility and to live their lives intentionally rather than accidentally. He does this by teaching how we can change those ‘automatic behaviours’ that sometimes frustratingly rule our lives.


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