A common theme for many people this year has been isolation. It's unfortunate that one of our best defences against COVID-19 is something that can negatively impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
Part of the solution to this is to remain connected any way we can. Even when we are not seeing each other face to face as much, we can take active steps towards contacting friends, family and colleagues. In addition to our Internal Wellbeing Initiatives, every few months, I make a conscious effort to arrange virtual 'Afternoon Tea's' in small groups to connect with everyone. It's a chance to check-in and also for myself and others to connect with different teams within the organisation. At AccessEAP we know the importance of connecting with each other and asking R U OK? and this year, that simple question is taking on a deeper relevance. Asking people are they ok? can make a difference between despair and knowing someone cares.
If you have an employee or colleague you are worried about, reach out, it may feel scary to make the first move. They might be disengaged with those around them, unable to focus on work, asking what the point of going on is, or saying that they are a burden. We often feel just a bit flat. But if you sense there is more going on – and this year there are a lot of stresses people are dealing with – trust your gut instinct. Remember during this time its expected that people may not be ok. People will be like a roller coaster some days they are ok and some they may be struggling and feeling down. This is why the conversation and checking in is so important every day and not only once a year.
Some people fear that talking about suicide might make it worse. Could it make a person who is suicidal think about it more and therefore act on it? No, it won't. The opposite is true as it creates a window for people and allows them to talk about what they are going through.
When you are talking, stay calm, it's ok to let them know you don't know what to say. Tell them you want to be here for them and will support them through this difficult time. R U OK? is a simple, caring question and it could be a conversation that changes a life – and being with someone in distress can be exactly the right type of help in that moment. The conversation is really important now and needs to be every day if we are to make a difference.
So, what happens if you ask – and someone says that they are not going well? Stay calm, encourage them to tell their story and listen to their story without judgment. It's the best and kindest thing you can do.
If you suspect that they are suicidal, the most effective way to address it is to ask the question, 'Are you thinking about suicide or harming yourself?' It is important to listen and not judge; that is how they are feeling right now. Help is available, and they are not alone. If they are not coping, encourage them to talk to someone, offer for a counsellor to call them or ask them to call LifeLine (13 11 14) or Beyond Blue. If they start to open up and there is a risk of harm, please stay with them until you can get them in contact with a mental health professional. That can mean their GP or calling 000 for crisis help. You do not need to do this alone. If you are unsure, please call our Manager Support Hotline on 1800 818 728 for advice.
We encourage you to make the time, be courageous and ask those around you, R U OK? A simple question can make a positive difference to their day and could lead to a conversation that changes a life for the better. R U OK? Day is one day but let’s make it R U OK? Day every day.
For a guide on how to have a conversation on R U OK? Day or any day, see our top ten tips here.
Sally Kirkright, CEO AccessEAP