Are you okay?

In our busy lives we sometimes have to be reminded about the very important basic things in life. SANE Australia’s Executive Director Barbara Hocking reflects on the importance of ‘staying connected with others’ on R U OK? Day.

“Are you okay?”; “What’s been happening?”; “How are things going?”. Everyone likes to be asked if they’re okay – it doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse, a tradie, a student, an executive, or living on a pension. It’s about staying connected with others and showing you care. But more than that it’s also a great way to help stop little problems turning into big ones.

In our busy lives we sometimes have to be reminded about the very important basic things in life. Thursday 15 September, 2011 is R U OK?Day. It’s a national day of action that aims to prevent suicide by encouraging Australians to connect with someone they care about and help stop those little problems growing bigger.

Staying connected with others is essential for our general health and wellbeing. Feeling isolated or hopeless can contribute to depression and other mental illnesses, which for some, may tragically result in suicide. Research has shown that being socially disconnected - a loose term usually taken to mean having few good friends or strong family relationships – is bad for both our mental and physical health - equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes or drinking six units of alcohol a day. On the flip side, regular, meaningful conversations can protect people we know and care about. A single conversation may just change a life.

So on 15 September we want everyone across the country, from all backgrounds and walks of life, to ask any family members, friends or colleagues you may be worried about: "Are you OK?" and most importantly, to know what to do if they say ‘well, actually no, I’m not’. If you are concerned, encourage them to make an appointment to see their doctor or call one of the Helplines supporting RUOK? Day. There’s plenty of help and support available and a visit to will provide you with information about organisations that can help and numbers you can ring.

As a national mental health organisation, SANE Australia is one of the organisations proudly supporting RUOK? Day. Through the SANE Helpline - 1800 18 SANE (7263) - we know only too well that talking about a problem can help someone put the problem in perspective and look at steps to take to make things better. Many of us find it hard to openly share our feelings, particularly if we’re struggling, so the best thing you can do for someone you are worried about, is to have a chat, let them know you care and encourage them to seek help. Nothing will change unless someone acts and it’s good to know we can do something.

And, if a loved one, friend or colleague is concerned about you, don’t turn them away. If you’re not okay, struggling a bit yourself, then perhaps it’s time for you to take action and accept their offer of support. Even if you think your problems are too personal or that no-one else will understand. That’s the point of this conversation – to talk things through, share the load and then take action.   

What to do

You don’t need special training to have a meaningful conversation, but how do we start that conversation? A good way of ‘breaking the ice’ is to start a general chat, perhaps over a cup of coffee, asking ‘How are you going?’ or ‘Are you OK?’ Try to listen without judgement and if you are concerned, encourage them to see their doctor – perhaps even offer to make an appointment for them. Remember, if someone is really struggling it can be difficult to take action, so call a few days later to see how they are going.

In 2009, its first year, more than 1 million Australians took part in R U OK? conversations. In 2010, more than 2 million conversations were generated. In 2011 there are now RUOK? activities at work, at school, at Uni, in Health and in Sport.  Will you join Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Simon Baker and others? How many conversations will there be in 2011?

It's so simple. In the time it takes to have a coffee, you can start a conversation that could change, and may even save, a life. We’re all being encouraged to start a conversation, especially on Thursday, 15 September 2011 - R U OK?Day. This national day of action which aims to connect us with friends and loved ones by reaching out to anyone doing it tough and simply asking ‘RU OK?’.

SANE Australia offers a wide range of resources to assist people diagnosed with mental illness and their families. Call the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) or visit for more information.