A clinical psychologist teaches us how to cut through this RUOK? Day

Senior clinical psychologist Dr Jasmine Pang has worked in healthcare for almost two decades and has witnessed the power of R U OK? conversations. Here’s an insight into her three biggest takeaways on the movement and how a conversation can truly can change a life.

1. Don’t underestimate the importance of emotional support

A strong social network of friends, family and loved ones can improve someone’s ability to cope with the ups, downs and stress of life. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to cast the net far and wide, quality over quantity!

“As a clinical psychologist with a special interest in resilience, trauma and recovery, I’ve met people who have lived through bombings, natural disasters, losing loved ones and abuse.

“It’s hard for family and friends close to the patient to face the heart-wrenching reality that there’s nothing they can do to change what has happened.

“But that’s the thing about R U OK?, it’s for everyone – professional or not.

“It’s been shown through studies around the world that the most consistent indicator of how well people survived is their experience of social support.

“Never underestimate the role you can play, all of us have the power to check-in and even though you can’t change what they’re going through, you can make sure they know they’re not doing it alone.”

2. Be genuine when you ask

‘How ya going?’ is our Aussie slang for ‘hello’, similar to the Brits’ ‘alright?’. We use it to greet one another instead of to genuinely ask about someone’s mental wellbeing. Mostly we get the automatic response ‘alright, how are you?’.

“If you’re asking someone how they are, make sure it comes across as genuine and allow them to respond truthfully, not just politely.

“Be sincere about really wanting to know if someone is okay. It’s not about what you say but about how you say it.

“Maya Angelou once said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.”

“Avoid asking if you’re in a rush or when you’re in the middle of something, instead, set a time to meet up for coffee or a walk and ask R U OK? then.

“These conversations and the little things we do for each other, like buying someone lunch or making them a cup of tea, can let someone know you’re always there for them.”

3. You have a role in destigmatising mental health

Not all of us are professionals, but all of us can check up on a friend when they need it most, Jasmine reminds us.

“A lot of people put off seeking mental health help because of the stigma that surrounds mental health and needing help.

“If you’ve had a hard day at work or dealt with a difficult customer, most people will vent to their friends or colleagues, not book in to talk to a GP, psychologist or mental health professional!

“This is a natural response – we will automatically lean on those closest to us first. A lot of the time, that is all that is needed, just a sounding board for us to be able to talk to.

“Which is precisely why we all need to be well versed in R U OK? conversations, and, if we feel that the person needs more than what you can give , don’t do it alone and  suggest that they talk to their GP or psychologist.

“I’ve had many patients who’ve made the choice to continue to fight to live and seek help because of R U OK? conversations they’ve had with those around them.

“Because of those conversations, they sought help and are still here today. Trust your gut! A conversation really can save a life.”