A LINE IN THE SAND: Today's the day to ask ‘are you OK?’

HOW often have you taken time out of your own life lately to notice those around you?

Not just know they’re there, but truly notice them.

Have they changed? Do they seem as upbeat as they once were? Has there been a change in their circumstances? Are they OK? Well, tomorrow is the time to ask. 

Actually, every day is the time to ask – but today is R U OK? Day – so it’s a good reminder to stop being insular and pay attention to what’s happening to those around us.

R U OK? Day aims to prevent isolation by empowering people to support each other through life’s ups and downs.

Bendigo mother Alannah McGregor cannot stress enough how important it is to notice when people change.

Alannah’s daughter, Angela, then 16, and son, Stuart, 20, took their own lives four weeks apart. Alannah was one of the driving forces behind this year’s SPAN suicide awareness walk in Bendigo, and is hoping next year’s event on March 24 will be bigger and better. “Last year the walk was more for those who had lost somebody, but we were talking to the converted. 

“We want people to come together to acknowledge their loss but my hope is to teach people about preventative measures and to get them to talk openly about suicide.

“It starts by asking, Are You OK?

“Be aware of how your friends and family are – take the time to ask them if they’re going okay and if they’re not, help them get the help they need.’’

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2361 people took their own lives in Australia in 2010.

The ABS figures show that suicide deaths comprise a higher proportion of total deaths in younger age groups compared with older age groups, and 24 per cent of all male deaths in the 15 to 24 age group were to suicide.

Males accounted for more than 75 per cent of all suicide deaths, with suicide ranking as the 10th leading cause of death of males and the 15th leading cause of death overall. So it’s time to ask if your friends and family are OK.

According to the R U OK? website, asking that question can change a life. The website recommends you:

1. Ask the question, “Are you OK?”

* Start a general conversation; preferably somewhere private.

* Build trust through good eye contact, open and relaxed body language.

* Ask open-ended questions

“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?”

2. Listen without judgement:

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.

“How has that made you feel?”

“How long have you felt this way?”

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 for support, help them to contact a local doctor or the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) 

“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?”

4. Follow up:

Put a note in your diary to call them in one week. If they’re desperate, 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?”

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 behavior 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.

People experiencing personal problems can call Lifeline on 1311 14, SANE Helpline on 1800187 263 or visit www.suicideline.org.au

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