In a world where the pace of life can be overwhelming and the challenges often unrelenting, taking a moment to ask "R U OK?" can make all the difference in someone's life. R U OK? Day serves as a reminder of the power of compassion, empathy, and genuine concern for those struggling with their mental health.
If you have a loved one who is facing such challenges, your support can be a beacon of hope in their journey to healing. This article aims to provide insights into effectively supporting a loved one struggling with their mental health. If you have a teenage or young adult child who is struggling with their mental health, you might like to read this article as well - How to check in on your teen or young adult children.
Before checking in with others, it's a good idea to check in with yourself. You need to be present and prepared to be able to have a meaningful conversation with someone. Try asking yourself the following questions:
Am I in a good headspace?
Am I willing and able to listen mindfully?
Am I willing and able to give this the time it needs?
Are we both going to be comfortable?
Are we both able to be fully present and free from distractions?
Open the Lines of Communication
Sometimes, all it takes to make a significant impact is a simple question: "Are you okay?" This seemingly small phrase can create an open space for your loved one to express their thoughts and feelings. If you notice a change in your loved one, it can be helpful to let them know and encourage them to share. It's essential to approach this conversation with patience, empathy, and a non-judgmental attitude. Create a loving and safe environment where they feel comfortable sharing and assure them that you are there to listen without offering unsolicited advice.
When your loved one begins to open up, be ready to listen and offer support. Pay close attention to what they're saying, reflect and validate their feelings, and show empathy and understanding. Often, people struggling with their mental health just need someone to lend an ear without interrupting, minimising their experiences, or immediately trying to offer advice and solve their problems.
Provide Empathy, Understanding & Reassurance
Empathy is a powerful tool for building and maintaining strong connections. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their emotions from their perspective. Avoid making judgments or comparisons to your own experiences. Let them know that you see their struggle and that their feelings are valid. Letting them know "I am here for you." is a simple way to provide loving reassurance and show that you care.
Be Mindful of Your Words
The words we use hold a lot of power. Avoid minimising statements like "stop overthinking things", or "it could be worse." Although you might mean well, these things can come off as dismissive. Instead choose words that let your loved one feel valued and cared for.
Encourage Professional Help
While your support is valuable, sometimes people will need ongoing or professional help to give them the best chance at managing or overcoming their difficult thoughts and feelings. If your loved one's struggles are persistent or severe, gently encourage them to seek assistance from a mental health professional. Offer to help them research psychologists or counsellors, and even accompany them to appointments if they're comfortable receiving support in that way.
Healing and recovery take time, and setbacks are common. Be patient with your loved ones progress and remember that their journey is unique. Avoid placing pressure on them to "snap out of it" or get better quickly, as this can inadvertently add to their stress and feelings of guilt and shame.
Offer Practical Support
Practical gestures of support can go a long way in demonstrating your care. Offer to lighten their load or help with daily tasks that might feel overwhelming to your loved one. These acts of kindness can help to lighten the load by providing them with some relief, and it's a great way to show that you're committed to their well-being.
Ask - Don't Assume
Try not to assume what your loved one needs in the moment. They might want a listening ear, your thoughts, a hug, a distraction, or something else. It's okay to not know what they need, and asking them directly is much more helpful than assuming. If you're unsure, try asking "How can I best support you through this?" It's also important to remember that support looks and feels different to everyone. Consider your relationship with the person and their comfortability. Here are a few different ways you can show support and care to someone who is struggling mentally:
Words of affirmation, encouragement and support - "I really appreciate when you...." "I love about you that...."
Loving reminders - "I really care about you." "I love you." "You matter to me."
Checking-in - "How have you been feeling since we last spoke?" "Just checking in to remind you I'm here if you need to talk."
Physical touch - hugs, kisses, massage, hair stroking, hand holding.
Thoughtful gestures - picking up their favourite snacks, sending them flowers.
Practical support - cooking a meal, running errands, helping them complete tasks, taking care of their responsibilities for a day.
Quality time - snuggle on the couch, go to the movies, plan a day trip.
Continue to check in on your loved one regularly, even if it's just a brief message of support to let them know you're thinking of them. Small gestures like sending uplifting quotes, articles, or funny videos can remind them that they're not alone in their journey. Asking thoughtful and supportive questions can help them feel understood and cared for.
R U OK? Day serves as a reminder that our words and actions have the power to make a positive impact on someone's mental health journey. By fostering open communication, showing empathy, encouraging professional help, and offering practical support, you can create a safety net for your loved one during their challenging times.
If you found this article helpful, or would like some conversation and question prompts, you might like to take a look at this month's conscious connection questions, which focus on mental health and supporting your partner. Here is the link to read.
Remember, if you or someone you love are struggling, there is help available. Support is available from the following organisations: (remember you can always call these free services for support and advice on what to do next). More resources: ruok.org.au/findhelp
Lifeline (24/7 ) 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service (24/7) 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue (24/7) 1300 224 636
Kids Helpline (24/7, for youth 5-25) 1800 55 1800
MensLine (24/7) 1300 78 99 78
For more tips on how to talk to your loved ones about mental health, visit https://www.ruok.org.au/how-to-ask