Suicide Prevention

R U OK? conversations: 4 steps that can save lives at work and home

You never know how a person is truly feeling.

Some people hide their emotions, painting on smiles, laughing when socially appropriate and always saying “good, good” when asked how they are going. As a psychologist, people often talk to me about feeling they have to put on a brave face or fake it till they make it.

But this facade can take an emotional toll.

One of my daughters recently participated in a group program which was meant to be about resilience building for kids. But instead she came home after one session (which ended being her last) sharing her not-so-resilient lesson to “swallow a spoon full of concrete and harden up”.

You could imagine… I was not impressed.

I did not want my 9 year old (or anyone else for that matter) going through life thinking the way to deal with life, difficult situations and their mental health, is by thinking you just had to suck it up and  deal with it. That may work for a bit, but the emotions are still there lurking under the surface.

At any time in our life we all deserve to believe that no matter what issues we are faced with, we can have the community supports and resources to enhance our mental health and well-being.  We don’t have to struggle alone.

A good starting point is to due a regularly mental health check/ personal audit  (and I recommend it to be daily), by truly asking yourself “how am I today?  and asking others “R U OK?

So you can image I am pretty supportive of our National R U OK Day – which is just around the corner on Thursday, September 13th.

What is R U OK day and what does it stand for?

Well for starters it is much more than just saying three words.

And it is so much more than a one-day a year initiative! It is about encouraging real human interactions – to check in and with genuine care ask someone R U OK? and engage in conversations that can save lives.

R U OK day is our national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that any day is the day to ask, “Are you ok?” and support those struggling with life.

The mission of the R U OK campaign is to have “a world where we’re all connected and are protected from suicide and to inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life”.

The R U OK goals are to:

  • Boost our confidence to meaningfully connect and ask about life’s ups and downs
  • Nurture our sense of responsibility to regularly connect and support others
  • Strengthen our sense of belonging because we know people are there for us
  • Be relevant, strong and dynamic. It is about caring enough to start the R U OK conversation.

The R U OK 4 step conversation steps:

  1. Ask R U OK?
  2. Listen without judgement
  3. Encourage Action
  4. Follow up.

Remember it is normal to be hesitant before starting the conversation:

Also before you start a R U OK conversation – first do a personal audit on how you are going.

  1.  Assess How confident you feel in helping – how to start the conversation, what to say and do we know enough to help. Remember an element of discomfort and being courageous is needed. It is OK to being hesitant. Also your relationship with the person will also determine if you are the right person to start the conversation
  2. How resilient you feeling at that very moment – are you in the right head-space, feel resilient enough or do you need to look after yourself first?
  3. Acknowledge that everyone thinks and feels differently about receiving support – personal feelings of embarrassment, discomfort, anger or relief may surface. They may behave in ways that suggest they want more support from you or avoiding further conversation. It is important to respect their wishes. Though, keeping the door open for future conversations is encouraged.
  4. Seek professional advice if you are concerned about a person or if they have made threats of self-harm. What can your workplace do? Make checking in with other staff a workplace well-being priority.

What can you do to be better prepared for R U OK conversations in your workplace?

During the year you can run training sessions and workshops that support staff to look after themselves and each other.

These sessions can help tackle R U OK conversations.

At the Emotional Health Centre we can provide a range of workshops and  lunch and learn sessions that compliment the R U OK campaign.  They can help tackle R U OK conversations. Our sessions are about:  improving stress management; promoting practices to create a mentally healthy workplace; improving productivity; building and sustaining resilience; and learning ways to effectively manage change.


Contributor:  Nicole Plotkin is an experienced Resilience Psychologist and Corporate Wellness Facilitator at the Emotional Health Centre. She is passionate about working with individuals and workplaces to promote, enhance and restore wellness at work and at home through team based resilience, mental health and stress management training programs and individual counselling sessions.