A man came right up to me at the R U OK? event we held in Western Australia and said ‘this is bulldust (words to the effect). People don’t care.’, another woman who I was buying some bread from at the opposite stall to us had the same sentiment. Her son is still waiting for a bed in a psychiatric unit and doesn’t feel that the question relates to them at all. There’s a 20-day wait and asking that question won’t help them, he needs help NOW.
These are just two experiences of adverse reactions I experienced face to face, let alone reading many thoughts online about how R U OK? is just a silly question that does absolutely nothing to really help those in need.
When I had the chance to explain the campaign, the intent and why we were doing what we were doing, those two people started to change their minds about R U OK? Interestingly, simply using the R U OK? four step process with each of the people who were adversary helped them in some way. I was even asked to attend another event to represent R U OK? that is being held by the man who thought R U OK? was ‘bulldust’.
So what did I say to help a deeper understanding?
Firstly, just as the R U OK? model promotes, I listened. I heard their perspective and current issues. When hearing the whole perspective I realised they weren’t actually talking about R U OK? they were talking about the education system, the hospital or care facility breakdown, they were having issues with the way the country is being run. They weren’t actually against asking another human being if they are ok. They didn’t feel ok themselves and were struggling.
I acknowledged their issues, and with absolutely no way of being able to change the bigger issues in that moment, I simply heard them. I then explained the reason R U OK? exists.
The mission isn’t about solving the issues of government, or systems that govern healthcare, though I am sure those systems are influenced by the campaign. The mission is about having a peer-to-peer conversation that supports someone to not feel isolated or alone. To really listen and make some connection which helps them to get through a tough spot in life.
Are you wondering what the 4 steps are?
1: Ask are you ok?
2: Listen without judgement
3: Create action
4: Check back in
I’m being simplistic, but that’s the point, if we take away all the complexity of the wider problems and see the simplicity in the R U OK? message, I believe the value is then understood.
The issue continues to be that people often don’t know how to ask, or how to deal with the response if someone isn’t ok. That I can totally understand. The good news is we don’t have to be experts to ask the question and hear the person out. We don’t have to be the solution or fix anything at all. In my experience most people are capable of coming to their own conclusion to help themselves, they just have to muddle through some emotions to get clarity. Often a supportive person and an ear to listen helps move that along.
Hearing a senior leader mention ‘liability’ at a talk I did in a corporate setting, for the national awareness day, was telling. He said that he felt he and his team were too disconnected from hearing issues from others because they had fallen into the trap of just offering EAP (employee assistance program) due to fear of being held liable if they were to help the person with issues in a work setting. He started to realise that having humanity and compassion for someone isn’t solving their issues or going to make him or his team liable. He reflected on the line between liability and humanity and wanted to change so they had the culture of caring, and of course still referring to professionals when appropriate.
Essentially, people do better when they have someone they can count on. All people experience life up’s and down’s. This movement, in my view, is about reducing apathy and increasing meaningful conversations at work, at home or in the street.
The R U OK? website has a wealth of resources, ideas and ways to connect with those around you who may need support.
I’m honoured to represent this organisation as a Community Ambassador, and have a personal mission to help others get equipped in asking questions of each other – questions that support wellbeing and then to hear the reality and truths of others internal worlds, because suicide is not an option in my world.
Even when it seems like ‘bullshit’ to others, taking time to listen and converse made the world of difference in helping the people I interacted with understand the deeper meaning to this national campaign. They also had the chance to talk about their struggle. Together we can lighten that load.
My quest: to make R U OK day – every day.