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R U OK? Day is a day of action, reminding us that reaching out and having a conversation with those around us and asking the question ‘are you okay?’ could save a life.

However once we ask ‘are you okay’, we need to be prepared for the answer to be ‘no’. Getting flustered, trying to find a band aid solution, or talking about your own problems isn’t helpful. If you’ve asked the question, you have to be patient and prepared for the answer that comes with it.

P&N Bank community partner, Lifeline WA share how to respond and support someone who is not okay.

No, I’m not okay

If the person says ‘no’, then it is important to encourage the person to talk about it. You can say something like ‘what’s been going on for you?’ or ‘let’s have a chat about it’. It is important not to force the person to talk, but to make it clear you would like to hear about it. It might be useful to go for a walk together - people often talk more freely when they don’t have to make lots of eye contact.

Listening is the most useful thing you can do at this stage. Use minimal encouragers like nodding or ‘mmm’ to indicate you are listening. It’s important not to rush the conversation, even if you are feeling nervous.

Empathise with the person, so they feel you are listening and acknowledging how they feel. Statements like ‘that sounds tough, mate’ or ‘I can hear you’re feeling sad/confused etc.’ are good.

Another crucial thing to ask is ‘how can I help?’ Many people already have resources or know what to do next, and it’s important we offer assistance in a respectful way. If they don’t have resources, ask if they have a GP they trust, or suggest you look up services together.

No, I’m really not okay

If you think there is a chance the person may be considering suicide, it is important to ask them about this directly. It can be useful to say ‘when people feel like this, sometimes they think about taking their own life. Are you thinking about suicide?’ You can’t put the idea in a person’s head if they aren’t considering suicide, but it can be a huge relief to someone to be asked and be able to talk about it.

If they are considering suicide, it’s important to connect them to support. This may be friends or family, a GP or other professional. You can say ‘I’m really glad you told me this, have you told anyone else?’, or ‘It’s important to reach out when we feel like this - I’m glad you told me. I’m not an expert in these things, so it’s important that you talk to someone who knows more about this than me and who can help.’ Don’t agree to keep it to yourself.

If you and your friend are unsure what to do next, or the person is distressed, you can always call Lifeline on 13 11 14 together.

I’d rather not talk about it…

Rather than answer ‘no’, it is possible the person may respond with a ‘yeah I’m okay’ or not want to talk at all. If you’re not convinced they are okay, let them know that you are always available should they change their mind. It’s worth sending them a text or email a few hours later reiterating your support.

It’s okay to voice your concerns with the person, and it can be useful to talk about the things you have noticed, such as ‘I’ve noticed you’re not your usual self lately/you’re quieter than usual, and I’m concerned. Please know I’m here if you want to talk’.

Remember a conversation could change a life and the simple gesture of compassion can have a profound effect on someone who is going through tough times. This RUOK Day (and every other day) take the time to ask the people around you, are you okay?

If you are struggling, call 13 11 14, available 24/7 to talk to one of Lifeline's Telephone Crisis Supporters.

Written by Lifeline WA Senior Community Educator, Laura Fitzgerald.