R U (really) OK? Tips for checking in

With reports of pharmacists experiencing high rates of burnout following an incredibly stressful 18 months, checking in with each other is more important than ever. Australian Pharmacist got some expert advice from the R U OK? Day team about staying connected.

Held each year on the second Thursday of September, R U OK? Day is a national day of action that promotes the importance of starting conversations with friends, family and colleagues about how they are faring.

The theme for 2021 is ‘Are they really OK? Ask them today’, and R U OK? CEO Katherine Newton said the aim was to encourage all Australians to pause and consider how the people around them are really going.

‘We want to emphasise that an R U OK? conversation is not only for when someone is visibly distressed or in crisis and to remind everyone that their support can make a difference for anyone who is struggling,’ she said.

Conversations count

Whether it’s through motivational interviewing techniques or skills learnt during a Mental Health First Aid course, pharmacists are skilled at starting conversations with patients. But talking to colleagues and friends can be a different issue.

While talking about mental health can be difficult or awkward, having a conversation with someone who is struggling is a relatively simple thing that can make a big difference, said Registered Psychologist and Suicidologist Ann-Maree Fardell Hartley.

‘Research has found that 80% of those who have recently spoken to someone about something that’s troubling them feel more supported and cared about, and 72% said it helped them feel better about themselves and their situation,’ she said.

‘Everyone has a role to play in ensuring the people in their world feel connected and supported … You don’t have to be an expert, just a good friend and a great listener.’ 

Some good moments to connect include when you are:

  • exercising together
  • sharing a meal
  • doing an activity side-by-side
  • travelling together in the car, or during a walk.

The research Ms Fardell Hartley referenced also found that 7% of those surveyed felt a conversation about mental health was unnecessary, unless someone seemed to be in a really bad way, or in crisis.  

‘None of us are immune to life’s challenges, whether that’s a relationship breakdown, financial worries, work pressure or, sadly for some, the loss of a loved one,’ Ms Newton said. 

“Sometimes it won’t be obvious that someone is having a hard time, but we know that when we ask early and in a genuine way, we can help someone who might be struggling feel connected and supported, long before they are in crisis.’ 

Different approaches for different people

With lockdowns making connection difficult, the R U OK? Team suggests picking up the phone, rather than relying on text or video calls for important conversations.

‘There’s something about a phone call that feels more personal and private that can often help people open up and have a meaningful conversation,’ the team said.

However, it’s important to recognise that different people will respond better to different approaches. Having a reason to call (for example, asking to borrow something or reaching out for advice) can be more useful than just picking up the phone for a chat.

If you are concerned about someone, role playing the conversation beforehand can help you prepare your response if someone responds ‘No I’m not’ when you ask if they are ok.

How to ask R U OK?

Before you can look out for others, you first need to look out for yourself. Assess whether you have the time to talk and are in a good headspace. 

You also need to prepare yourself to accept that the person might not be ready to talk and ensure you choose the right moment to make the call or start the conversation (five minutes before the end of your lunch break is probably not an ideal time).

R U OK? provides comprehensive information on how to get started.

The team’s top tips include:

  • Be relaxed, friendly and concerned in your approach
  • Mention specific things that have made you concerned, such as ‘You seem less talkative than normal. How are you going?’
  • Try not to interrupt or rush the conversation
  • Avoid judgement
  • Ask how the person would like you to support them
  • Share your own experiences, if you feel comfortable
  • Encourage them to see a health professional if they have been feeling really down for more than 2 weeks or at at risk
  • Put a reminder in your calendar to check in again sometime soon.

Click here for more tips and information on R U OK? Day.