I remember my first thought when R U Ok? Day was introduced”Why is it just one day? It should be everyday”I was frustrated that there was only one day given to a very important task, as I’m sure a number of other mental health professionals would also have thought. I consoled myself ‘one day is better than none’ until I realised that I didn’t have to limit myself to one day and I could encourage others to take it beyond that one day both by modelling the skills more myself and actively campaigning for this through my work with individuals. So here I am today writing about checking-in with friends and family members to see if they are doing ok. I reviewed a smartphone app earlier in the week designed to help you build your skills in doing just that and I reviewed the online resources available from Arafmi for those who are concerned about friends and family members who are experiencing mental illness. In doing this I am extending the life of R U Ok? Day.
I’ve also realised that the introduction of R U Ok? Day broke down the stigma of asking people about their mental health, the same way you would inquire about their physical health. It has resulted in many health promotion events, media attention, resource development and services which are there to support individuals who are trying to support loved ones with mental health concerns. It’s now more socially acceptable to ask friends and family members about their mental health. You might notice they don’t seem themselves, they are not going out or doing the things they would normally do. Or perhaps you have noticed they are doing things they wouldn’t normally do, something that is out of character for them. It’s easy when we notice things like this to think that our friends will change back, it’s just a temporary change. Or we think that it’s not our place to say something to them, they have family or other friends who will help them. The truth is if we all thought like that then who would offer the helping hand? Who would reach out and ask the difficult questions?
Asking the question is just one challenging part of checking-in with someone about their mental health. You also have the challenge of then sitting with the feelings that they have shared with you. Some may have been involved in an event or situation that has triggered these feelings, or still be in an unhealthy situation, so not only do you wonder about your skills and abilities to help them with these situations but you also take on board some of their feelings around these situations. Or they might trigger some of your own past issues.
So you may overcome the challenge of speaking out and asking someone if they are ok, and then the challenges in sitting with your own emotions of supporting your friend and you may be wondering how to get them the help they need. You can start by looking through the services available on the page. You can use the skype drop-in sessions yourself to ask the online counsellor for guidance about what services might help. You could also pass the website details along to your friend and tell them about the services available. You could request an appointment with the Health and Wellbeing Advisor’s on campus by phoning for an appointment for you and your friend to come to together to ask for some direction.
Whilst you have fear and doubt about your ability to help your friend or family member, it’s not what you say or how helpful you are that that person will remember. What they will remember is that you cared enough to ask the question.