What To Say When Your Mate Tells You That They're, In Fact, Not OK
R U OK? Day is a beautiful concept. It serves as a reminder that, at the very base of it all, mental health problems are very real. They can have very damaging effects and sometimes all that a person dealing with depression, anxiety or the like needs is just a reassurance that they have people around them that love, support and are ready to help should they need it. Of course, a simple question like 'are you OK?' is unlikely to solve all problems, nor does such a question guarantee a simple Yes/No answer, but it's a start.
While receiving a comforting 'yes' answer to the question can fill both parties with elation, relief and hope, things get a little tricky when the answer isn't so clear cut. There's a decent chance that the person you so desperately want to be OK just might not be, and might only feel comfortable telling you so because you asked them. From here, navigating just how to go about supporting them can be difficult but it certainly doesn't need to be. Next time a friend tells you that they're, in fact, not OK, there are some tips that are worth remembering that might help you help them.
Know That There Is No Universal Way To Make Someone Feel Better
Depression and anxiety are multi-faceted illnesses that possess no known guaranteed cure. Of course, there are ways in which they can be helped - medication, meditation, and improving wellbeing via diet and exercise - but none of these are guaranteed to 'cure' these illnesses. In the same light, there isn't a singular thing you can tell someone to make them OK. People respond to attempts to help in a myriad of different ways, so don't pressure yourself into thinking that it's impossible to help your mate out. Instead, it's worth just being there to listen to anything your mate has, or doesn't have, to say. If they ask for advice, try your best. If they don't ask for advice, just remind them that you're there for them regardless. Work with them and rid your mind of any expectations of how they're gonna respond - you'll make it much easier on them and yourself.
Please Don't Say Things Like 'You'll Be Right'
Australia, by nature, is a pretty laidback country - we're always striving to promote a carefree and positive exterior to the world. However, that carefree ethos we try so desperately to promote within our community can actually lead to an uncomfortableness felt by those who want to talk about their problems. Ever noticed how hard it is for a ~blokey bloke~ to vocalise what's going on internally? Men, under the patriarchal Western society, are systematically discouraged to show their feelings as it might be seen as too 'feminine.' Phrases like 'suck it up, princess', 'take it like a man' and the like might be fine when it comes to throwing a footy around, but when we're talking about mental illness those phrases should not even cross your mind. Furthermore, saying things like 'you'll be right' or 'keep your head up' might feel like they're comforting with your intent, but can actually appear quite dismissive and evidence that you're uncomfortable helping your friend through a rough spot. It's an isolatory thing to hear, which means it is better left unsaid.
Avoid Making It About Yourself As Much As You Can
When comforting one another, it can be easy for our subsconscious to sneak in ways to relate a friend's situation to something we've experience. While you have good intentions, this again can isolate the person you're trying to help. Empathy is key in these types of situations, as is the ability to listen. Unless the person you're helping asks a question like "what would you do in my situation?", it's important to avoid using words like "I" or "me" - as hard as it may be. More often than not, some reassurance of someone's worth and value can do wonders for their self esteem and that can be done without referring to yourself. Reiterating that someone is loved, supported and cared for might be all they need.
Educate Yourself In Resources Your Friend Can Turn To
Of course, we can't always be there for our friend who needs us. No single person is available to help others 24/7 - it's neither healthy nor realistic. However, there are resources that are available 24/7 that help fill that void. If you know someone who is suffering from depression or anxiety, or even displaying some symptoms that are triggering your concern, get ahead of the game by educating yourself on helplines, resources and other outlets that can help your friend when you're unable to. Odds are that you're not a qualified mental health professional, and sometimes - if things are too heavy - some professional help along with your support can be the winning combination. Groups like BeyondBlue and Lifeline exist purely for this reason. When going in to help someone you suspect might not be OK, be sure to have these resources on hand just in case. You can never be too prepared to help a mate.
Above All Else, Remember That Making Sure Someone Is OK Isn't A One Day Job
As previously said, R U OK? Day is a wonderful concept but we cannot limit ourselves to only today for checking in on our loved ones. It does a disservice to them and a disservice to yourself. When it comes down to it, you know your friend more than us and you probably know how best to help them. Maybe they respond best to someone telling them uncomfortable truths? Maybe they respond best to you taking them out to get something to eat? Maybe they respond best to you just nodding your head and listening? Regardless of how best they respond to your help, your help cannot just be limited to R U OK? Day. This day, more than anything, serves as a reminder that we all need to be doing more to ensuring our loved ones are being supported and cared for, especially when they're living with a mental illness. It serves as a reminder that while it takes a few seconds to vocalise a problem, it can take months to figure out a solution and that is OK.
Now, more than ever, we need to unite and spread love to people of all races, all genders, all sexualities, all religions, all classes and all backgrounds. Society might discriminate, but mental illness doesn't. Anyone can be vulnerable, but anyone can lend a helping hand. So, send that text. Make that phone call. Remind each and every one of your loved ones that they are indeed loved and that it's OK not to be OK. We'll get through this together.
- Jackson Langford.
If you or someone you know are experiencing depression/anxiety, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 (24/7), Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.