In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s all too easy to overlook the silent struggles that many around us might be facing. While we may not be equipped to read minds, there are often clear signs—behavioural, emotional, cognitive, and physical—that can tell us when someone we care about may be silently battling their inner demons.

When Is the Right Time to Check In?

The right time to check in on someone’s mental health can vary from person to person and situation to situation. However, there are certain signs to watch out for—behavioural, emotional, cognitive, and physical—that can indicate when someone might be in need of support:

Behavioural Signs: These are changes in a person’s actions or habits that might signal distress. Examples include withdrawing from social activities they once enjoyed, a significant decrease in productivity, or avoiding conversations about their well-being.

Emotional Signs: Emotional changes are often the most apparent indicators of mental health struggles. Someone might become irritable, anxious, or excessively sad. They may also express feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or mood swings that are out of character.

Cognitive Signs: Mental health challenges can affect a person’s thinking patterns. They might have trouble concentrating, experience racing thoughts, or constantly worry. In some cases, individuals may become forgetful or indecisive.

Physical Signs: Stress and mental health issues can manifest physically. Watch for changes in appetite (either an increase or decrease), sleep disturbances, unexplained aches and pains, or frequent illnesses. Chronic stress can take a toll on the body.

When you’ve recognised that someone might be in need of support, it’s essential to have that crucial conversation. But how do you begin? The four-step process outlined below provides a thoughtful and empathetic approach to checking in on someone’s well-being.

The R U OK? Conversation Structure

Here’s a simple four-step conversation structure to help you check in with someone you care about:

Step 1: Ask

Before asking the all-important question, “R U OK?” it’s essential to create the right environment for a meaningful conversation. Here are two crucial aspects to consider:

Physical Environment: Ensure you are in a private and comfortable physical setting. Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted, and where you and the person you’re speaking with can feel relaxed and safe. This helps create an atmosphere of trust and confidentiality, making it easier for them to open up.

Check your schedule and make sure you have enough time for a meaningful conversation. Rushing through such discussions can inadvertently send the message that you’re not genuinely interested or concerned. Allocate sufficient time so you can listen attentively and without distractions.

Emotional Environment: Equally important is assessing your emotional readiness. Before asking if someone is okay, ask yourself if you are in the right emotional space to offer support. Reflect on your own emotions and concerns, and ensure you’re in a stable and empathetic state of mind.

Mental and emotional fatigue can impact your ability to be present and supportive, so be honest with yourself. If you’re dealing with your own emotional challenges at the moment, it might be better to seek support for yourself first so that you can be better equipped to help others later.

Step 2: Listen

Once the person starts sharing, practice active listening. This means paying full attention to what they’re saying without interrupting or offering immediate solutions. Let them express their thoughts and emotions. Sometimes, people just need someone to listen and validate their feelings.

You can show that you’re actively listening by nodding, making verbal affirmations like “I understand” or “Tell me more,” and maintaining eye contact. Avoid distractions like checking your phone or looking around the room. Your focus should be entirely on the person you’re talking to.

Step 3: Encourage Action

In the journey towards better mental health, it’s crucial to empower the person you’re supporting to take ownership of their well-being. After discussing their feelings and potential strategies, ask them a vital question: “What do you feel is the next best step for you?”

Often, individuals have an intuitive understanding of what they need to do to improve their mental health. By giving them the agency to identify their next steps, you respect their autonomy and self-awareness. It can also boost their confidence and motivation to take action.

Encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas, whether it’s seeking professional help, adopting specific self-care practices, or making lifestyle changes. Listen attentively and validate their choices. If they’re unsure or need guidance, offer suggestions based on the conversation you’ve had. Ultimately, the goal is to support their decision-making process and provide a helping hand along the way.

Remember that every person’s path to mental well-being is unique. By involving them in the decision-making process, you foster a sense of ownership and self-determination, which can be incredibly empowering.

Step 4: Check In

After your initial conversation, it’s crucial to follow up and continue providing support. Mental health challenges often require ongoing care and attention. Send a message, make a call, or meet up in person to see how they’re doing. Even a simple, “I’ve been thinking about you, how are you feeling?” can mean a lot.

Checking in shows that you genuinely care and are committed to their well-being. It also reinforces the idea that they’re not alone in their journey. If they’re receiving professional help, ask if they’d like you to accompany them to an appointment or offer assistance in any way.

Remember that discussing mental health is an ongoing process. Continue to be patient, empathetic, and supportive as they navigate their challenges. Your consistent presence and care can make a significant difference in their recovery and well-being.

By embracing these four steps, we can create a culture of open communication and support around mental health. Together, we can break the stigma, provide the help that’s needed, and make a positive impact on the lives of those we care about.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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