Navigating the 'Are You Okay?' Conversation
I know it’s not officially ‘R U ‘OK?’ day, but lately it’s been weighing on me that a lot of people don’t actually know how to ask someone if they are okay, and how they are going. Sadly in today’s society, so many serious issues slip under the radar because people don’t know where to find help- but we don’t all have to be experts or trained counsellors to check in on someone. Most of the time it’s just being a good friend and asking that first question that brings people to the right place of seeking further support.
Please don’t let fears of what to say or do in this moment prevent you from asking for help in the first place. It’s not about having all the answers when the person responds with “No, I’m not,” all we have to do is simply be there, actively caring. I think back to times in my life where I was going through heavy emotional experiences, the joy and hope I felt when someone would ask me how I was travelling, it was amazing! Knowing that those few friends took the time to seek me out was a huge encouragement. From there I went and got professional support. To this day, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. We all need to ask and be asked “Are you okay?” We need to break the stigma around this question. It needs to be a happy question, a relaxed question and a genuine question.
To help you on the journey of asking the all important question, I’ve included some advice from the ‘R U Ok’ website.
Step 1: Ask ‘Are you ok?’
Start a general conversation; preferably somewhere private Break the ice with a joke or a comment about the day Build trust through good eye contact, open and relaxed body language Ask open–ended questions Ways to start the conversation could be:
What’s been happening? How are you going? I’ve noticed that… What’s going on for you at the moment? You don’t seem like yourself and I’m wondering are you ok? Is there anything that’s contributing?
Step 2: Listen without judgement
If they say they’re not ok, guide the conversation with caring questions and give them time to reply Don’t rush to solve problems for them Help them understand that solutions are available when they’re ready to start exploring these Ways to show that you are listening could be:
How has that made you feel? How long have you felt this way? What do you think caused this reaction?
Step 3: Encourage action
Summarise the issues and ask them what they plan to do Encourage them to take one step, such as see their doctor If they’re unsure about where to go to for help, help them to contact a local doctor or the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Ways to encourage action could be:
What do you think might help your situation? Have you considered making an appointment with your doctor? Would you like me to make an appointment or come with you?
Step 4: Follow up
Put a note in your diary to call them in one week. If they’re really struggling, follow up sooner.
Ask if they’ve managed to take that first step and see someone.
If they didn’t find this experience helpful, urge them to try a different professional because there’s someone out there who can help them.
How are things going? Did you speak with your doctor?What did they suggest? What did you think of their advice?You’ve had a busy time. Would you like me to make the appointment?
Put a note in your diary to call them in one week. If they’re really struggling, follow up sooner Ask if they’ve managed to take that first step and see someone If they didn’t find this experience helpful, urge them to try a different professional because there’s someone out there who can help them Ways to follow up could be:
How are things going? Did you speak with your doctor? What did they suggest? What did you think of their advice? You’ve had a busy time. Would you like me to make the appointment?
Dealing with denial?
If they deny the problem, don’t criticise them. Acknowledge they’re not ready to talk Say you’re still concerned about changes in their behaviour and you care about them Ask if you can enquire again next week if there’s no improvement Avoid a confrontation with the person unless it’s necessary to prevent them hurting themselves or others Ways to respond to their denial could be:
It’s ok that you don’t want to talk about it but please don’t hesitate to call me when you’re ready to discuss it.
Can we meet up next week for a chat?
Is there someone else you’d rather discuss this with?
Is life in danger?
If someone says they’re thinking about suicide, it’s important you take it seriously. Tell them that you care about them and you want to help. Don’t become agitated, angry or upset. Explain that thoughts of suicide are common and don’t have to be acted upon.
If someone says they’re thinking about suicide, it’s important you take it seriously. Tell them that you care about them and you want to help. Don’t become agitated, angry or upset. Explain that thoughts of suicide are common and don’t have to be acted upon. Ask if they’ve begun to take steps to end their life. If they have, it’s critical that you do NOT leave them alone and do NOT use guilt or threats to prevent suicide. Even if someone says they haven’t made a plan for suicide, you still need to take it seriously. Get immediate professional help by calling 000(Australia only) or call crisis support lines – such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 – for advice and support.
Lastly, if you are someone who is being asked if you’re okay, please don’t shut that person out. Sometimes it’s hard to trust people with the truth of how we’re feeling because we don’t think they’ll understand; we think they will judge us, or we’re scared they’ll take it to a higher authority. Sadly sometimes people will judge us for how we feel, it isn’t right, but it does happen. You don’t have to answer every question that comes your way, the part that is important is knowing who to answer. If a school counsellor or chaplain is asking how you are going, it’s a safe place to be honest. If you have a respected and trustworthy adult in your life, that’s a safe place to be honest also.
Even as adults, we need wisdom on who and when to share with. But ultimately if you are the one being asked “are you okay?” don’t let defense mechanisms stop you from getting help, don’t talk yourself out of trusting someone. We need to be wise, but we also need to go out on a limb sometimes in order to get healthy, the first conversation is always the scariest, I promise it gets easier.