This post contains details of depression and suicide, and may be triggering for some readers.
Today, the second Thursday of September, is R U OK? day.
The campaign is a national nudge to ask our friends and family how they are - like, really are - and to encourage an ongoing conversation about mental health.
Research tells us that one in four Australians feel lonely and have no one to speak to, according to Lifeline Australia. We also know that suicide is the number one killer of young people in Australia.
So having these conversations are as important as they can be uncomfortable.
Mamamia spoke with clinical psychologist Cliff Battley about how exactly to navigate these discussions.
1. Start with an empathetic statement.
Starting the conversation can often be the hardest, and Battley explains it's important to be gentle in your approach.
Here are some conversation starters he provided:
- "You don't seem yourself lately."
"I noticed you seem a little more down than normal."
"You're normally such a happy person. I just noticed that spark is not there today."
"You're always so upbeat. I just noticed today you don't seem as good."
"Hey, time's are tough, aren't they? I know how you feel."
The clinical psychologist, who has over 25 years experience in the field, shares: "The best thing you can always do is make some specific positive compliments first - something you genuinely love about this person - to let them know that you are here for them."
He adds that it is important to "make the discussion safe," and to "show empathy and vulnerability".
If the person admits they are struggling, and a conversation ensues, Battley suggests gateway statements that will "allow the person the freedom to open up to you". Here are some examples:
- The challenges of life can get you down. It's 100 per cent normal to feel this way."
"It's absolutely fine to have feelings."
"I'm your friend when you are happy, why wouldn't I be your friend when you're sad?"
"You're my friend no matter what. I'll always be here for you."
Battley adds you can "remind them of how well they've done in a previous challenge in life," and let them know "how many people genuinely care about them in the world".
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2. Can I help you?
If the person admits they are struggling, the next step is to move to ways to help them. This is a good time to bring up solutions and suggestions, Battley says.
There are easy ways to ask this, and could be as simple as:
- "Is there something I could do?"
"Would you like me to to help you?"
"Is there anything you have in mind?"
3. What might that help be?
The person may have ideas themselves for useful ways they can move forward. If not, they may tell you, "I genuinely need help, but I don't know what to do - I'm stuck and I'm lonely."