Our UTS LSS Student Wellbeing Advisory Group member and ongoing Wellbeing blog contributor, Diana Semaan writes…
‘Staying connected and having meaningful conversations is something we can all do. You don’t need to be an expert – just a good mate and a great listener. So if you know someone who might be struggling – start a conversation’ – Gavin Larkin
In the summer of 1995, the Larkin family were devastated by the loss of their father Barry. As with all suicides, Barry’s loss created a whirlwind of grief for friends and family and countless questions that could never be answered.
In 2009, his son Gavin Larkin chose to honour his fathers’ memory by promoting the one question we can always ask. ‘Are you OK?’
Joining forces with Janina Nearn to create a documentary, Gavin endeavoured to change the way Australians ask this question. True to form, a documentary wasn’t enough! Gavin endeavoured to generate the national campaign we celebrate today to acknowledge the power that simple conversation can have in saving lives. Gavin continued work on his legacy until his own unfortunate passing from cancer in 2011.
Why does the question matter?
We see the discussion of mental health and illness around us everywhere. Often it is in the form of discussions around budgets and resource shortages. But of all the ways in which we can attempt to achieve support in the world around us, taking the time to start a conversation is always the primary step. It can be done by anyone and it costs nothing more than a moments thought for the people we care about.
How can we ask the question?
We all know that one person who pats you on the back from afar with a broom handle when life gets you down. Everybody handles their personal struggles differently; likewise, everyone offers their help in their own way. RuOK offers a few helpful tips on taking a few simple steps in the right direction.
- Trust your gut instinct
Maybe something about the way your friend has been acting is not usual for them. Perhaps they seem out of sorts to you? You’re a friend; by starting a conversation about the changes you have noticed you may encourage them to open up. Even if you don’t think you’re seeing results, you help them feel like someone cares enough to ask.
- Getting ready to ask
Although seemingly trivial, the method of delivery in asking someone if they are okay may determine what happens next. Everyone who wants to have this discussion needs to stop and ask themselves a few things. Am I in a good headspace? Am I actually willing to listen to what might be said? Can I make time for a proper long discussion if necessary?
Further more, you may need to prepare yourself for the outcome. The person on the receiving end may deny any observations made, may refuse to address the matter, or may not want to talk to you about it. Don’t take this personally, if you’re a friend or family member you will most likely have the intuition that goes with preparation. Maybe they may also need to speak to someone else, maybe they just need a moment to take it all in!
Lastly, whilst it seems like every social event a student could have provides you the Dutch courage you need to spill your guts, there is a time and place for the serious conversations. There is a lot you can do to make a loved one comfortable and help them feel supported. Have you checked whether or not it is a good time to chat? Have you chosen a time when you are alone and they are not occupied? Have you chosen a quiet place?
- Having the conversation
Whilst it may be a mere assumption that you get along with this person most days, approach the subject the way you would on your best day. Ask them how things are going, what they have been up to. In appropriate opportunities, bring up what is concerning you about them lately …
‘You seem less chatty than usual … how are things going?’
More often than is expected, a person may shut down, pull back or become defensive. They may not want to talk about it. Again don’t take this personally; avoid confrontation and ask if there is anyone else they would prefer to talk to. Maybe ask if they are free to talk later?
If they are willing to talk, allow them to control the conversation, ask them to explain things if they provide vague answers about how they may be feeling. Respond often to acknowledge that you’re listening, and try your best not to interrupt or rush things.
I have asked RUoK. What else can I do to help?
Ask more questions RuOK is the first question amongst many. Try asking your loved one what they have done in the past to handle challenging moments. Allow them to lead the discussion in taking action. Try and bring up what they do to relax, what you do, what works and what doesn’t.
Professional and Community services Encouraging a loved one to seek professional help is always useful, you cannot expect to understand and grasp everything that can be happening in a single conversation. Seeking one of many available professionals, outreach programs and initiatives may just be what they need. Remember you’re where the help starts, not where it ends!
Check in regularly Checking in on your loved one regularly and in a positive manner always helps them feel less isolated. Even a quick catch up over the phone or coffee once a week could make all the difference in the world!
RuOK? and batyr
Amongst many initiatives available to students in particular is the unique initiative of the batyr Association. Founded by Sebastian Robertson in 2011, batyr has become a national initiative focusing on preventative education in the area of youth mental health. Not only does this provide opportunities for young people to receive training in sharing their experience in their community, it provides the actual opportunity for such stories to be heard. Conducting programs to educate, empower and engage students from the experience of others, batyr endeavours to make discussion of mental health our norm.
The unfortunate reality in Australia is that students experience high rates of mental ill health. While we may live in a less than perfect system to accommodate the needs for mental wellness, we possess the capacity to take the first step for ourselves and for others. The stories of RuOK, Batyr and other initiatives have their own origin stories, but all share the same message.
It starts with a conversation!