Recognising R U OK?

Are you okay? Three simple words. One question. Four syllables. A chance to potentially save a life. We go about the daily grind, passing people day in and day out. The monotony of repetitive routines can often lead to isolation. It’s easy to reach a point where you’re not okay. You smile and nod, but you remain brittle on the inside, hanging by a thread.  A needle on the edge. It can be exhausting. All you need is a little seed of hope. A lifeline. A shoulder to lean on.

Investing in the time to genuinely check in and be fully present for someone can ultimately change a life. It’s not just about uttering the question; it’s about creating and then holding space for someone to feel seen, heard, and valued. It’s our national day of asking “Are you okay?”

R U OK day is recognised on 14 September and is a national day of action where we encourage all Australians, friends, family and colleagues to check in and start meaningful conversations with the people around them. The day is about empowering Australians to make time for the little conversations that can lead to big changes. Big changes in somebody’s life story and big changes in promoting mental health awareness.  This life-changing initiative is run by the Australian non-profit suicide prevention organisation R U OK. Initiated in 2009, R U OK was launched by the late Gavin Larkin who sadly lost his father to suicide.

R U OK highlights the necessity to participate in suicide prevention mindfully by equipping and empowering Australians on how to do so. The result is a powerful cultural movement that embraces mental health awareness and recognition.  So, don’t wait, check in with those around you in the clinic, and at home. Haven’t heard from that friend in a while? Pick up the phone and give them a call. You never know who needs the space to feel safe and heard. 

How to ask R U OK?

Step 1: Ask “Are you okay?”

Notice someone isn’t acting like their usual self? Ask the question of whether they’re okay. You can do this by simply asking “Are you okay?” or even asking in other ways such as “How are you travelling?” “You don’t seem yourself lately – want to talk about it?”

Keep it simple and hold a space of safety and empathy. Keep the line of communication accessible.

Step 2: Listen with open body language and an open mind. Take what they say seriously, but don’t rush or interrupt the conversation. Allow them to speak and if they need time to think, sit patiently in the silence together. It’s okay. Continue to hold a safe and non-judgmental space.  Encourage them to explain further by asking “How are you feeling about that?” or “How long have you felt that way?” The key step here is to show you’ve listened and that you care. Try repeating back what you’ve heard and confirm you have understood them properly. Acknowledge that things seem tough for them. Acknowledge that it took a leap of faith and courage to speak up.

Step 3: Encourage action. Ask “What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?” “How would you like me to support you?” “When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this… you might find it useful too.” “What’s something you can do right now? Something that is enjoyable or relaxing?”

See how you can help with an open mind. If they have been feeling down for more than two weeks, encourage them to see a professional. Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times. Let them know about free mental health services like Lifeline, Beyond Blue, Men’s Line Australia, and Kids Help Line.

Step 4: Check in! One of the most important steps and not to be underestimated!  It is always important to stay in touch and be there for the person who confided in you. Showing genuine concern and care can make a world of difference. Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of days. Follow up later in the day or the next day if they’re really struggling. You could say “I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to know how you’re doing.”  Stay in touch and offer reassurance.

It’s not always easy to keep the conversation going when someone is not okay, but it could make a huge difference in somebody’s life. Remember, you don’t have to fix someone’s problem; it’s about holding space for a conversation and being a supportive listener. Let’s empower real change in how we talk about mental health in your community. For more information on R U OK? visit