What to say if they R NOT OK

by | Mar 9, 2023 | Uncategorized

I think the ambition, thought and desired outcomes behind the R U OK campaign are wonderful. Did you know that the R U OK campaign was initiated in Australia. Sadly it came about as a result of Gavin Larkin’s Dad, Barry, who committed suicide in 1995. Gavin wanted to honour his Dad and to help prevent the devastating effects of suicide impacting on other families. In 2009 Gavin decided the champion the dual cause of mental health and suicide by introducing us to the simple question ‘R U OK’. This is a question we should ask those around us on a regular basis – but a good start is by honouring Barry Larkin and Gavin Larkin (who died of cancer at the young age of 43 in 2011) and asking those around you ‘R U OK’ on September 10 – national R U OK day.

It is wonderful to see so many get behind R U OK initiatives. However, what you do and say after you have asked ‘R U Ok’ is very important. My advice is that unless you get an enthusiastic ‘I’m great’ then it might be worth gently exploring the answer to see if this person may be hiding that they are indeed struggling.

Of course, I am not suggesting that we steam roll people into opening up. However, a gentle exploration of their answer through meaningful questions may be helpful. Say things like ‘Is there anything I can do?’; ‘Is there anything I can do to help you with what’s happening with you?’; ‘Is there anyone we can talk to that might be able to help you?’; ‘What have you done so far to try and sort out this problem?’; ‘Let’s grab a coffee and have a chat’.

If you find that you have opened up a genuine ‘can of worms’ then your best bet is to provide ‘non-directive’ support. You are very unlikely to be able to solve the actual problems. Your genuine concern, willingness to listen, and (hopeful) objectivity are the greatest gifts you can offer. Encouraging the person to seek professional help is a true no-brainer, Lifeline and other support service, Doctors, and the Australian Psychological Society’s  Find a Psychologist service are all great recommendations to make.

What NOT to do

Trivialise the issues – e.g. ‘Yeh that happened to me once – you will get over it’

To be falsely positive – e.g. ‘Come on Mate you’ll be right – it will all work out’

Importantly – don’t offer advice unless it is actually sought.

Sadly, many people still find it difficult to ask for help. If you feel that you R

NOT OK then you may want to read my article ‘R U OK day – what to say when you are 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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