I’m struggling big time at the moment, but in light of R U OK Day, and all that is happening in the world, in these challenging times, I thought it might be worth spreading this excellent article written by Sukriti Wahi.
Sometimes just reaching out and asking the question is enough – and sometimes it isn’t. In my case – right now – I don’t want to sit down and stop and think because I know if I do, I will fall apart. And yes, I’m aware it’s not all about me and when that old enemy self pity comes slithering along the floor, I feel like a truly self involved bitch. I question my faith – in everything, and I pray everyone else in my circle of love understands my silence and that they R OK.
If you’re not, PLEASE PLEASE reach out. I’m afraid I’m here, but not really here if that makes any sense. Keeping the life in our tiny bubble ticking along is my priority at the moment, but if I can, I will sit down and listen.
It was R U OK? Day September 10, and while many of us know that we should reach out to our friends (and we do), the question is only one part of the equation.The other part? Knowing what to say or do after someone close to you reveals that they’re struggling in a way that doesn’t invalidate their experience, and possibly, make them feel worse.
WHAT TO SAY AFTER ASKING ‘R U OK?’
We get it. Talking about mental health is hard and finding the right words is a struggle at the best of times. So, in order to help you help a friend that might be going through a tough time, we consulted psychologist Glen Tanner from Tanner Psychology to understand exactly what to say after asking “R U OK?”.
What Are Some Words Or Phrases We Should Use When Talking To A Friend Who’s Said They Aren’t Ok?
So, you’ve asked the question, your friend has openly admitted that they aren’t doing well, and not you’re not sure how to respond. Firstly, don’t beat yourself for not feeling sure, and secondly there are a few things you can say at this point. It all comes back to using words and phrases that validate their experience. Need some help? Consider the below as a good guide:
1. I’ve got your backThis is a good one to help people feel less alone in their struggles. “People with depression often feel alienated,” said Tanner. “We live in a culture where people don’t necessarily talk about their problems.””Moreover, many people with depression falsely believe they are ‘burdening’ others with their problems. Thus, they may choose to suffer in silence. Telling someone that you’ll be there for them through thick and thin ensures they feel supported.”
2. I can see that things are really hard for you at the momentAccording to Tanner, one of the biggest things you can do is validate their feelings and experiences, as it helps people feel understood and appreciated.
3. You’ve got this!“Encouragement offers hope,” said Tanner. “Encouragement is empowering, and can help shift the focus towards improvement.”
4. This conversation stays between usLetting your friend know that a conversation is confidential enables trust and builds rapport, Tanner emphasised. “People are more likely to disclose how they are feeling when they feel safe and secure.”Lastly, as paradoxical as it may sound, remember the age-old saying:
5. “Actions speak louder than words”“There is no ‘right’ thing to say here, so you can stop searching for it,” Tanner said. “Research has found that only 7% of any message is conveyed through your words. 38% is conveyed through vocal elements like pitch and tone, and 55% through nonverbal elements like gestures and facial expressions. So, just relax, chances are, what you say is not that important, more what you do.”
What Should We Avoid Saying?
What we want to avoid doing is invalidating their experience by making their emotions and current situation seem trivial. Tanner recommended the following to ensure we steer clear of saying anything that minimises their struggle.
1. Avoid comparisonsTempted to say “I know how you feel”? It’s not the best idea, because chances are, you don’t. As the Carl Jung saying goes, “The shoe that fits one person pinches the other; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.””We all wear it differently, and mental health is no exception,” Tanner told ELLE. “We all experience anxiety and depression in our own unique way. So, try to get an understanding of how the other person is feeling because chances are, its not as you are.”
2. Avoid giving adviceAs much as it hurts to see a friend in pain, it’s important to not immediately present them with perceived solutions to their problems. It’s best to keep away from phrases like “What I recommend is…”, Tanner said. That’s not to say you can’t offer help, but there is a way to do it.”Offer suggestions, not advice,” he explained. “Present people with options, and help them choose the right solution for them.”
3. Avoid downplaying itDownplaying looks like “You’ll be right, mate” and “It’s not the end of the world”, both of which invalidate their experience.
4. Avoid put-downsIf you’re a fan of dishing out ‘tough love’, this might be difficult for you, but it’s important. Saying things like “You’re being a drama queen” or “get over it”, won’t do your friend any favours.”This person is already down, there is no need to lay the boot in,” Tanner said. “If you find yourself reacting this way, perhaps it’s time to pause and consider why.
What Are Some Other Actionable Steps We Can Take After Asking ‘R U OK’?
After having the conversation, there are a few actionable steps you can take to help your friend through their tough time, Tanner advised.
1. Listen to them“You have two ears and one mouth; that’s not a coincidence,” he said. “Everyone wants to be heard, to be understood. Listen without judgement.”
2. Offer your help“We don’t need to do a lot. Often, it’s the small things that matter anyway,” Tanner explained. “You could offer to drive a friend to the GP, or accompany them to see a counsellor. Something is always better than nothing.”
3. Offer your time“Spend time with your friend. You may have have to initiate this as they may wish to be left alone. Invite them over for a coffee and a chat. Or if they are up to it, something fun or relaxing,” said Tanner.
4. Suggest talking to someone and getting help“They may require professional support, and a GP and/or psychologist may be the right people to talk to,” he added.
Some Final Words Of Advice
Lastly, remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. Often, just being by their side and showing that you have their back through your words and your actions, is enough.”Be there for them. Offer your time and your help,” said Tanner. “There is no textbook guide to supporting someone with a mental illness. Something is always better than nothing, so just do whatever you can to show your love and support.”
I know it sounds like a lot, but as someone who has many many days of not being OK, I’m asking you to reach out. DO something. Anything. Something small. Something awesome. Whatever. The world is hard right now – more so for some than others. And you’d be surprised who is suffering. I always am.
There isn’t a lot I can do for others. I wear my emotions like clothing. I have no armour, and I often simply have no words, or the wrong ones. I will try if you need me, but be warned – I am likely to cry and I am an ugly snotty crier. You’ve been warned.
Anything. I am so grateful.