Today is R U OK day, which is aimed at starting a conversation about mental health in the community.
People often don’t want to talk about it or ask people about it. They might be scared to ask what is going on, because they are afraid of what the person might say back. They might feel ill equipped to deal with the answer.
What will I do if someone tells me that they are not okay?
Well, the good answer is this, you don’t have to have a PHD in psychology, or be qualified in social work, to start a conversation about mental health. We can all talk about having the flu, having a physical illness, or giving up smoking these days without feeling terribly embarrassed or shameful.
But it is still hard to talk openly about mental illness.
Recently, I had a bad bout of anxiety and started on some antidepressants. A couple of months back I wrote some pretty low blog posts as part of my attempt to deal with it myself.
I got a lot of Facebook love, musings such as you will be okay, bad times help us appreciate good times, another friend asked me what do I have to be sad about in my life? (She told me I have a husband and an apartment by the beach and all the ingredients for a happy life). But the actual calls and messages to see if I was okay came from people I hardly knew, a friends husband and an old running friend. They actually got in touch with me personally, asked how I was doing and if I knew where I could get some help. This was very touching and meaningful to me.
I know where to get help – I am a social worker! But perhaps I am not so good at taking advice and am very good at giving it out. So it was those phone calls that pushed me forward and made me realise I needed some extra help. They didn’t tell me everything would be okay nor sugar coat things, they asked if I was really feeling okay. They heard how distressed I was really feeling.
You don’t have to have all the answers to start a conversation. You just have to listen. Work out a plan with the person about what they can do next, whether it might be seeing their gp or calling lifeline or beyond blue. Any of the above is a good place to start. Sometimes you can’t solve problems (well most of the time actually) but supporting someone to share their problem by not feeling embarrassed, ashamed and alone (or brushed off) when they first recognise they might need some help is one of the most powerful things you can do.
Once I started talking about it more, so many people I knew opened up, they were on antidepressants too, struggling with relationships, anxiety and the like. Life is imperfect.
No one is actually okay all the time anyway.
And if we asked each other a bit more often we would feel more okay to not be okay, if you get what I mean.
So ask someone if they are okay today. And really really listen.