The one question we need to ask more often

Thursday is R U OK? Day. It’s when we remind ourselves of the need to connect with those around us and check on their welfare. The day itself was born from tragedy, conceived by a son whose father had taken his own life some years beforehand.

The idea is to start a conversation with someone around you who may not seem to be themselves. They might seem disengaged, agitated, out of sorts. By asking them if they are OK, you might just trigger a discussion that could get them back on track.

Of course, it’s not just about asking the question; it’s just as much about listening. According to the R U OK? website, deciding whether to ask the question of someone else requires you to be ready to listen. You have to have the time to take on board what you are told. You need to know you are ready if someone says, “No, I am not OK.” And you need to accept the person you ask might not want to talk to you. Indeed, they might not be ready to talk at all.

If a conversation is prompted, you need to accept you can’t necessarily fix the problem. Just talking about it, however, might help relieve the issue. 

The R U OK? website encourages you to suggest action if someone reveals they are struggling. Drawing on your own experiences is a good way to do this.

It’s important to follow up the conversation, to check back and see if things have improved.  

If you don’t feel you are the right person to pop the question, it’s worth asking yourself if someone else is. 

It’s a bitter irony of modern life that we are more connected than ever by the devices we carry every day. However, our smartphones and tablets can also lead to a sense of isolation and inadequacy. Nothing beats a genuine, face-to-face conversation – no tweet or Facebook post will ever adequately replace the sense that a real person is present and listening. Empathy wins out over electronics every time.

While R U OK? Day is designed to encourage us to look out for each other, it’s something we should be thinking about every day, not just on September 14.

If you are someone you know needs help, Lifeline provides 24-hour crisis counseling, support groups and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14. MensLine Australia is a professional telephone and online support and information for Australian men. Call 1300 78 99 78, 24 hours/seven days a week.