Asking R U OK?
You've got what it takes

If your gut says something’s not quite right with someone, chances are that they might need a bit of extra support from the people around them. They might be acting a bit differently, seem to have a lot on their plate, or simply aren’t themselves. Don’t ignore those signs but instead take some time to start a conversation.

One of the great things about asking “are you ok?” is you don’t have to know the answers to a mate’s problems. Nor do you have to be ok yourself. Or feel particularly strong. As long as you feel up to listening, not judging and just talking through stuff you have found useful in the past, you’ve everything it takes to have a meaningful conversation to support a mate in need. 

The below isn’t a script – they’re tips to help you ask from the heart.

Getting ready to start a conversation

be ready be ready

Be ready

  • Are you in a good headspace?
  • Are you willing to genuinely listen?
  • Can you give as much time as needed?
be prepared be prepared

Be prepared

  • Do you understand that a difficult conversation might happen and you won't have the answers?
  • Do you understand that talking about personal struggles can be difficult and they might get embarrassed, even angry?
pick your moment pick your moment

Pick your moment

  • Have you chosen somewhere relatively private and comfy?
  • What time will be good for them to chat?
  • If they can't talk when you approach them, ask them for a better time to come back

How to ask

Step One: Ask R U OK?

  • Be relaxed.
  • Help them open up by asking questions like "How you going?" or "What’s been happening?" or "How you travelling?
  • Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like "I've noticed that you seem really tired recently" or "You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?"

Did you know?

The World Health Organization wants you to be a part of the health system. That's because they know you can pick up on friend's struggles before they become a big issue.

Step Two: Listen without judgement

  • Take what they say seriously.
  • Don't interrupt or rush the conversation.
  • If they need time to think, try and sit patiently with the silence.
  • Encourage them to explain.
  • Ask "How are you feeling about that?" or "How long have you felt that way?"
  • Show that you've listened by checking that you’ve understood. Try and do it in a way that shows you've listened to all the details and are really trying to understand what they're going through. You could say, "It sounds like you’re juggling a few things at the moment and you’re feeling really stretched”.
  • If they get angry or upset, stay calm and don't take it personally. Let them know you're asking because you care and acknowledge that times seem tough for them.

Did you know?

Feeling like you belong makes you more resilient. So, are you helping keep friends and family strong?

Step Three: Encourage action 

  • Help them think about one or two things that can be done to better manage the situation. It might be they take some time out for themselves or do something that's fun or relaxing.
  • Ask "What can I do to help you get through this?" or "How would you like me to support you?"
  • If you’ve found a particular strategy or health service useful, share it with them. You can say something like: "When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this... You might find it useful too."
  • If necessary, encourage them to see a doctor or other professional. This is particularly important if they've been feeling really down for more than 2 weeks. You could say, "It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I'm happy to assist you to find right person to talk to.”
  • Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times, but understand that it may take a bit of time to find the right one.

Did you know?

Family and friends are the people most likely to persuade someone to get help when they need it.

Step Four: Follow up

  • Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of weeks. If they're really struggling, follow up with them sooner.
  • Say something like, "I've been thinking of you and wanted to know how you've been going since we last chatted."
  • Ask if they've found a better way to manage the situation. If they haven't done anything, don't judge them. They might just need someone to listen to them for the moment.
  • You could ask, "Do you think it would be useful if we looked into finding some professional or other support?"
  • Understand that sometimes it can take a long time for someone to be ready to see a professional. We can't rush this or force someone to seek support. Instead, remain optimistic about the benefits of getting help and try not to judge them.
  • Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.

Did you know?

If they made the effort to talk to a professional and didn't find it helpful, urge them to try a different professional because there’s someone out there who can help them.

dealing with denial

Dealing with denial

  • If they deny the problem, don’t criticise them. Acknowledge they’re not ready to talk.
  • Avoid a confrontation.
  • Examples of how you could respond to their denial include “It’s ok that you don’t want to talk about it but please call me when you’re ready to chat” or “Is there someone else you’d rather talk to?”
  • Tell them you’re still concerned about changes in their behaviour and you care about them.
  • Ask if you can enquire again next week if there’s no improvement.
does someone need expert help?

Does someone need expert help?

  • If someone says they’re thinking about suicide, it’s important you take it seriously.
  • Tell them that you care about them and you want to help. Don’t become agitated, angry or upset.
  • Explain that thoughts of suicide are common and don’t have to be acted upon.
  • Ask if they’ve begun to take steps to end their life. If they have, it’s very important that you don’t leave them alone and do not use guilt or threats.
  • Even if someone says they haven’t made a plan to take their own life, you still need to take it seriously.
  • For confidential advice and support call a crisis support line – such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. Other places to find help are here.
  • If you think that someone’s life is in immediate danger call 000 (Australia only) and stay with them until help arrives.