suicide prevention, two women chatting

Suicide Prevention: How to Have an R U OK? Conversation

Thursday September 8 is R U OK? Day. It’s a National Day of Action when you are reminded that every day is the day to ask, ‘are you ok?’ and to start a meaningful conversation whenever you spot the signs that someone you care about might be struggling with life.

The goal is to make the practice of reaching out an everyday event, not just on RU OK? day.

There’s no doubt that many have experienced tough times over the past 12 months. Whether it be natural disasters, the ongoing impact of the Covid 19 pandemic, world conflicts, workforce shortages or the cost of living – there’s a range of factors that have added financial pressure and emotional strain.

These pressures can sometimes feel overwhelming and out of your control. However, you can always reach out and have a conversation to support those who may be struggling around you.

R U OK? contributes to suicide prevention efforts by encouraging people to invest time in their personal relationships and build the capacity of informal support networks – friends, family and colleagues – to be alert to those around them, have a conversation if they identify signs of distress or difficulty and connect someone to appropriate support, long before they’re in crisis.

No Qualifications Needed – You Don’t Need to Be an Expert to Help

The R U OK? Day organisation has found that 4 in 10 Australians hold back from asking someone R U OK? because they are worried it might start a conversation they believe should be had with an expert.

To dispel that myth, the message of the campaign this year is that you don’t need to be an expert or have all the solutions to help someone in need.

Just listening and showing you care may be all someone needs to help them through a tough time. However, if they do need expert help, you can act as the connector to professional support.

Dr Grant Blashki, Beyond Blue Lead Clinical Adviser says that people should remember that they don’t have to be a mental health expert, that they’re just opening the conversation and need to listen.

“It’s ok to say thanks for talking to me about that, I’m not really sure what to do, but let’s look at it together and I’m here to help,” he says.

“People shouldn’t undervalue their basic humanity. Every human being is able to ask R U OK? You’re immediately qualified to help as a human being.”

How to Have an R U OK? Conversation

Before you start the conversation, it’s important to consider whether you’re ready. Ask yourself:

  • Am I Ready?
    • Am I in a good headspace?
    • Am I willing to genuinely listen?
    • Can I give as much time as needed?
  • Am I Prepared?
    • Do I understand that if I ask how someone’s going, the answer could be: “No, I’m not”?
    • Do I understand that I can’t ‘fix’ someone’s problems?
    • Do I accept that they might not be ready to talk? Or they might not want to talk to me?
  • Have I Picked the Right Moment?
    • Have I chosen somewhere relatively private and comfy?
    • Have I figured out a time that will be good for them to chat?
    • Have I made sure I have enough time to chat properly?

r u ok conversation guide


The First Step is to Ask

The first step to having an R U OK? conversation is to ask. It doesn’t have to be R U Ok? You can ask ‘how are you going?’ or ‘how have you been?’.

Let them know the changes you’ve noticed and start to have that conversation.

It’s important not to judge or criticise the person if they don’t want to talk. Let them know you’re available if they want to chat another time or if they would rather speak to someone else.

Listen with an Open Mind

Listening is one of the most important steps in an R U Ok conversation. This is where you try to understand what is really going on with the person. What are some of their concerns and the reasons why their behaviour may have changed.

Show that you’ve listened by repeating back what you’ve heard (in your own words) and ask if you have understood them properly.

Take what they say seriously and don’t interrupt or rush the conversation. Allow for silences and let the person take their time in telling their story.

Encourage Action

The aim is to encourage the person to seek further assistance, especially if they have been feeling down for more than two weeks. That might be helping the person to connect with a GP, mental health professional such as a psychologist or connecting with other support options such as community based support or a 24/7 helpline.

It may be that just having a conversation with you, going for a walk together or chatting over a cup of tea can assist.

However, some conversations are too big for family and friends to take on alone. If you feel someone is at risk of harm, contact a professional as soon as you can.

Check In – Stay in Touch

The fourth step in an R U OK? conversation is to check back in and follow up on the conversation you started.

Check to see whether support services were helpful or whether they need to engage in further support.

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.

Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.

Access Resources to Learn More

Having an R U OK? conversation can help someone feel safe, supported and connected. While asking may not always be easy, it could change a life.

There are a range of resources available to help you champion the R U Ok? message every day of the year.

There are specific resources and conversation guides available for:

Reach Out For Support

If you are having suicidal thoughts, please seek assistance by contacting a trusted healthcare professional or calling Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others, seek immediate assistance by calling Triple Zero (000).

Psychological Health Care offers professional counselling services to help cope with mental health challenges such as depression and suicidal thoughts.

If you need help coping or want psychological support services, contact us today for a chat.