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How to start a supportive conversation this R U OK Day

Each year, R U OK Day brings to surface some sobering statistics about the mental health of Australians and acts to shine a strong light on mental health awareness. No matter how many messages you might see about R U OK Day, there are four aspects you should keep in mind to create awareness for mental health – not just on R U OK Day, but every day.

R U OK Day is all about starting a conversation about mental health with people who may be experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts.

That’s why we’re calling on you to remember four important steps to sparking that important connection to people may seem distant or disconnected. An easy way to remember them is to keep in mind the name ALEC.

Remember ALEC: Ask, Listen, Encourage Action, Check In

Often, the best way to start a conversation about a person’s mental health is to ask the question: “are you okay?”.

When asking this question, be relaxed, friendly and show your concern and support for them. If you’re not comfortable asking “are you okay?”, there are alternatives. Questions like “how are you going?”, “what’s been happening?” or “can I help you with anything today?” are less direct and encourage a person to open up.

If the person shows you they aren’t ready to speak out, don’t criticise or push them to start a conversation. Instead, tell them you’re there to support them and that you’re available for a chat whenever they’re ready.

Without judgement, hear what they have to say, and try not to rush the conversation or interrupt. It may be easy to judge someone else’s experiences, but remember that everyone has unique emotions and that their experiences are real and important.

Once they have explained to you how they feel, gently encourage them to tell you a little more if they’re open to continuing. Questions like “how do you feel about that?” or “how long have you felt this way?” might help.

This is an opportunity to encourage them to seek help if they believe it would assist their mental health. Some questions you might want to ask could be: “what have you done in the past to manage similar feelings?”, “how can I support you?”, “what’s something you can do for yourself right now?”.

If you know the person has been feeling upset, down or dull over the past two weeks, encourage them to see a health professional, but be sensitive when posing this idea. Some conversations are too big for friends to take on alone, and health professionals are often the best person to speak to if someone is at risk.

Checking in is your opportunity to tell someone you’re thinking of them and that you’re ready to support them whenever they might need it. This can be as simple as putting a reminder in your diary to call a person, letting them know they’re being thought of or staying in touch.

R U OK Day is also a good opportunity to learn about the prevalence of mental health issues among Australians. Twenty per cent of Australians will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives, while at least six Australians die as a result of mental health illnesses and suicide each year, according to the Black Dog Institute.

Looking for more tips on how to start a supportive conversation? Take a moment to watch the video below from R U OK.

R U OK Day is a much-needed day of awareness that encourages discussion around mental health illnesses and suicide, however, it can also bring to surface emotional concerns for many people, and a torrent of messages about poor mental health on media channels doesn’t always help to improve a person’s emotional or mental state.

So, if you’re thinking of reaching out this R U OK Day, keep in mind that each person has a unique experience with mental health. If you do reach out to someone, and they aren’t ready to discuss their health with you, keep them in mind and ask “are you okay?” on another day.

If you’re a support worker and want to actively support your client’s emotional wellbeing, click here for some tips on how you can help them get talking.

Mable helps to create meaningful, long-lasting support relationships for individuals seeking aged care, disability support or short-term support across Australia. Whether you’re ready to discover support or want to start a rewarding career being an independent support worker, Mable can help you connect. Discover Mable.

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