It’s OK to be Not OK

R U OK? Day is a yearly reminder to regularly check on your friends and family, especially those who are dealing with life problems, by asking the question: “Are you OK?”. It is a national movement that aims to empower and inspire people to connect with others. The goal is to encourage and support anyone going through an emotional or mental struggle.

Born out of passion

A beloved father, Barry Larkin took his own life in 1995. His friends and family were left to cope with the loss. Fourteen years later, in 2009, Barry’s son Gavin Larkin decided to do something about it. To honour his father, he advocated a one-liner that could initiate change in the way we see suicide and mental health. That single sentence was intended to help protect other families from the grief that his own went through. With Janina Nearn’s support, Gavin was able to form the R U OK? campaign to help raise awareness on these issues.

Following the founding and success of the passion project, Gavin lost his battle with cancer and died in 2011. R U OK? lived on, and his extraordinary life was featured in the Australian Story that same year. His legacy became a nationwide Conversation Movement that prepares people with the right skills to help those who are going through hard times.

A man having a reflective conversation

Message for R U OK? Day 2021

This year, R U OK? Day is commemorated on Thursday September 9. The message for the campaign is: “Are they really OK? Ask them today.”

We’re in the thick of lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have to be socially and physically distant from friends and family to avoid the risk of transmitting an invisible illness. Now more than ever, we have to stay connected to emotionally support each other.

So, after asking the question: “Are you OK?” What’s next? The campaign shares a concrete guide for when the recipient of the question says they are not OK and how to maintain the conversation to help save someone’s life. You don’t need to be a skilled communicator to do this successfully. Just be sincere and listen closely. Your presence and attention could help someone feel loved, appreciated, and supported. This, in turn, can encourage them to get the appropriate help they need, so they will be a step closer to making a positive change in their life.

How can I help the people I care about?

Notice the people around you. Is anyone in your circles having a tough time during lockdown? Did they post something alarming or distressing on social media?

Approach them with kindness. Remember to always speak to them politely and in a friendly manner. Say “How are you holding up?” or, “I noticed you haven’t been your usual self lately. Are you OK?”

If they start sharing, keep an open mind. Ask them how these negative thoughts and feelings came about and how long have they have had them. Encourage them to talk. At the same time, you must never judge them—it is best to just listen. Part of the reason why people are hesitant to share their feelings is that not everyone listens and understands them.

As they open up to you, you can ask further questions like: “What activities or actions have you done in the past to deal with similar situations?”, “How can I help support you?”, and “What’s something you find enjoyable these days?”. You might also want to suggest some useful activities that have worked for you or encourage them to see a mental health professional. Do not force them to go do your activities or go to the doctor, as this can discourage them from doing so.

If they are hesitant to talk or share anything at all, you can still help by giving them the assurance that you will always be available to listen and talk when they need someone.

Check on your loved ones

There are people who deal with life hurdles in silence, mostly out of fear of being singled out, humiliated, or shunned. By asking this question first, we allow people to open up about their daily battles. We accept that being “not OK” is actually OK. The more we share about our experiences, the more we unburden our emotional load and be well on our way to getting the help we need to overcome it. So, from time to time, check on the people you know and love. Your genuine concern for them can really make a difference.

If you want to be part of this movement, visit R U OK? Day on Instagram

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