R U OK day fills up our newsfeeds with bright yellow once a year, to remind us to start a conversation that could save a life. These open and honest conversations explore a topic that, while taboo, will affect many of us at some point in our lives in one way or another.
On average, on any single day eight people are lost to suicide. For every person who commits suicide, it is estimated that a further 30 will attempt suicide. Eighty-nine per cent of Australians say they know someone who has attempted or committed suicide.
The R U OK message was brought to life in 2009 by Marketing Executive Gavin Larkin after he lost his father to suicide. Since then, the movement has gained momentum, and today, approximately 80% of Australians recognise the message.
Can a conversation really help?
Research has shown that there are three factors that, when combined, can dramatically increase a person’s risk of suicide. These factors are: the means to take their life; the belief that they are a burden on their friends, family or society; and finally, the feeling that they are isolated or disconnected.
By starting a conversation with someone, and showing we truly care, we can help to alleviate that feeling of isolation and disconnect.
As practitioners, we come across so many patients who are going through a distressing time, either as a result of their medical condition or from the residual effects of the condition.
It is so important that we connect with the person behind the condition as we have a unique opportunity to have these conversations in a private, secure environment.
What if the answer is “no”?
It’s infinitely easier to ask, “R U OK?” when we expect the answer to be yes. But what about when the answer is “no, I’m not”?
While as practitioners, this is something we deal with often, for our patients it may not be. R U OK have developed an easy, 4-step process to make sure those conversations are followed through.
How to ask
If you have a patient who is worried about someone, or if you yourself struggle to ask, the four steps to follow are:
- Ask “R U OK?”: this simple, straightforward question is a non-threatening way to approach the conversation, and leaves it open-ended so the person you're asking can divulge as much or as little as they want.
- Listen to the answer: really listen and immerse yourself in the response.
- Encourage action: this might not be solving their problem yourself but encouraging the person to seek appropriate support.
- Check in: make sure you follow up, organise a catch up with the person you were speaking to a couple of days later.
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