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Are they really OK? Ask them today. Learn how to ask at R U OK? A conversation could change a life.

9 September 2021

Want to help a friend who’s struggling? Here’s some expert advice on how to ask ‘R U OK?’

Today is R U OK? Day – the national day of action reminding us all to check in with the people around us.

The simple act of having regular and meaningful conversations can make a huge difference to someone who may be struggling. While we all feel low or anxious at different times, the challenges of the last 18 months mean there’s never been a more important time to let your family, friends and peers know that you’re there for them.

We know that it’s not easy being a uni student during COVID – and it may be that some of your friends or peers are struggling with things like:

Whatever the issue, feeling noticed, heard and cared for is a powerful thing – and it’s something we can all do. So if you feel like something’s a bit ‘off’ with someone you know, or you notice a change in what they’re doing or saying, trust your instincts and take the time to ask them: ‘Are you OK?’

I’m worried about someone, but where do I start?

It’s understandable if you’re feeling a little daunted about exactly how to reach out and have a meaningful chat to someone you care about. Karen Stuart and Nicole Pluim, who manage Deakin’s Counselling and Psychological Support (CAPS) service, have some helpful advice about what to look out for and how to approach your chat.

If your friend or loved one says they’re OK but you’re worried they might be putting on a brave face, this may be due to fear of negative judgment, fear of impact on study/work or fear of looking weak.

Look out for a mismatch between words and non-verbal behaviour. For example, they might say ‘I’m fine’, but their tone is flat or aggressive, or their facial expression is sad and they avoid eye contact.

To encourage them to open up, it’s important to acknowledge their feelings and use open-ended questions – ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘how’. For example:

Help me understand what is going on for you.
Help me understand more about how you’re feeling.
Who else have you talked to about this and what did they suggest might help?
I care about you, what can I do to help?

If you’re worried that you’re prying or that you might make things worse, there’s some amazing resources on the R U OK? Day website and at Beyond Blue to help you.

How do I help a friend if I can’t see them during lockdown?

Karen and Nicole acknowledge that a sense of isolation is a major impact of lockdown. Some of the usual ways we connect – on campus, social events, work – aren’t available right now and so there’s less opportunity to check in, especially informally.

For many people, their default response when feeling vulnerable is to withdraw from others, but this can be harder to recognise when we’re all in lockdown. It’s important to set up regular catch-ups – try a virtual coffee or Zoom social chat, or meet up for exercise with one other person (within government COVID guidelines).

Now, more than ever before, we need to add structure to our lives and construct boundaries between the tasks/roles across our life. Encourage your friends to be vigilant in defining when to study, when to socialise and when to relax (and do the same thing yourself!). This helps to give some stability to help cope with all the uncertainty that COVID brings. 

What if I think someone needs professional help?

Karen and Nicole emphasise the importance of trust – you can help a friend by being open to hearing about their experience. Together, you can identify the type of help they’re ready for – from self-help resources to professional help that includes medical and counselling support.

Deakin offers a range of free services to help students with their mental health and wellbeing. You can reach out to the CAPS service for a free and confidential telehealth appointment, book an appointment with a doctor at the Deakin Medical Centre or visit our Ask Counselling online blog for confidential advice.

Oh, and don’t miss our trivia tonight!

Have you registered for our R U OK? Day online trivia extravaganza focusing on friendship?

Run by the Deakin Wellbeing Ambassadors, we’ll test your knowledge of the greatest and most memorable friendships and acts of camaraderie throughout history and popular culture. There’s some great prizes up for grabs! 

This event will be run via Zoom, with questions delivered through online trivia platform Kahoot. Once you register, you’ll receive Zoom login details, while Kahoot logins will be shared during the event.

When: Tonight, 6–7.30pm
Register now, and view terms and conditions.

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