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RU OK? Day Q&A with psychologist Ronit Joel

9 September 2020
by Naomi Sherborne, Health Promotion Officer, Jewish Care and psychologist Ronit Joel.

Q: 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, what are some of the better ways we can approach a friend if we feel they may be struggling?

A: I would recommend an approach that is caring and supportive. Send messages of support and gently ask how someone is doing without asking too many questions. Let them know you are there to listen and   Check-in regularly. People often have an outpouring of support in the initial stages of difficulty or crisis, but the effects of the situation will probably linger for some time. Don't take it personally if they don't respond. Give them some time, but try again and don't give up on them. Some people with depression or anxiety may withdraw from others, but you can still send the occasional message of support just letting them know you care.

Q: What can I do if I ask 'R U Ok?' and my friend says that they are fine, but I know that they are not?

A: It can be challenging for many people to acknowledge they are not doing so well and even harder to reach out for help. I would recommend taking a light and gentle approach, but to keep persisting if you are concerned. Continue to follow up with this person and remind them that you are there to listen.

It can also be helpful to acknowledge times where you may have struggled yourself and benefited from the support of others, this normalises help-seeking and can help the other person feel validated and understood. It helps to stay non-judgemental and refrain from giving advice or putting pressure on anyone.

Let them know you are there to listen, remind them you care, and open the door for them to reach out when they are ready.

If you have more serious concerns that someone is at risk of harming themselves, let them know your concerns and seek their agreement to involve a health care professional. If they won't agree and you are still concerned, you should consider discussing the situation with someone else you trust who can assist you in determining what to do next.  You can also call helplines such as Lifeline who can provide you with some advice and resources, or in the case of an emergency call 000.

Q: How can I empathise with a friend if what they are struggling with is something I have not experienced?

A: The best way to empathise is to listen and to reflect on what you have heard and understood. Acknowledge their situation, their feelings and their distress. Show interest in what they have to say and be encouraging, but don't grill them for too many details, let them know they can share only what they feel comfortable with. Let them know you are touched that they have opened up to you and are there to support them.

Follow this up by checking in on them. You don't need to make them feel better or fix anything, just let them know you are thinking of them and acknowledge the difficulty they are going through.

Q: R U OK? Day is just one day of the year, how can we ensure that following up with people becomes consistent and normalised practise?

A: People often say nothing when they don't know what to say. I think it's better to acknowledge that you are not sure what to say or what the right words are, and say it anyway. The more we do this, the more comfortable and less awkward it becomes. Remember, it's not finding the perfect words that matter, it's the thought and gesture that counts.  Another point to remember is that we often make the mistake of not following up with someone because we don't want to upset them by reminding them of checking in their loss/difficulty/crisis. Ironically, the opposite is usually true. Most people will feel comforted, validated and valued when we check-in. Their pain is already there, and by following up, you are not causing the problem, but instead acknowledging it and letting them know that you haven't forgotten and that they are not alone. And, when the shoe is on the other foot, and someone else is checking in on you, let them know you appreciate it and you are glad they reached out, this will reassure them that they have done the right thing and will encourage them to do it more often.

If you or someone you know is in need of support, please reach out. There is always someone there to listen.

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467

Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636

Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800

Mensline – 1300 78 99 78

Jewish Care – 8517 5999

In an emergency, call 000.

Jewish Care gratefully acknowledges the support of the professionals in our community who contribute to our pro-bono psychology offering.