A simple question. How’re things? Are you okay? And usually we don’t even listen closely to the answer. We expect someone to be ‘fine‘ or presume they might have had a bad day or week. We all have them right? But just sometimes, that little voice in your head says something’s not quite right with someone. They might be acting a bit differently or simply aren’t themselves. And it seems to last for a long time…
Are you worried about someone and unsure what to do?
Helping, without being nosy or overstepping the mark, isn’t always easy, but the “RU OK” website has a straight forward ‘4 step plan’ outlining how to support a friend that might be in need of some extra TLC.
Make sure before you start ‘spreading the love’, you are ready, prepared, and you have picked the right moment (don’t be rushed or distracted). Key is also to be prepared for “denial”. If your friend denies there is a problem, don’t criticise them. Acknowledge they’re not ready to talk and avoid a confrontation. Tell them you’re still concerned about changes in their behaviour and you care about them. Ask if you can enquire again next week if there’s no improvement. You can also respond with “It’s ok that you don’t want to talk about it but please call me when you’re ready to chat” or “Is there someone else you’d rather talk to?”
1: Ask ‘Are you okay?’
- Be relaxed.
- Help them open up by asking questions like “How you going?” or “What’s been happening?”
- Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like “I’ve noticed that you seem really tired recently” or “You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?”
2: Listen without judgement
- Take what they say seriously.
- Don’t interrupt or rush the conversation.
- If they need time to think, try and sit patiently with the silence.
- Encourage them to explain.
- Ask “How are you feeling about that?” or “How long have you felt that way?”
- Show that you’ve listened by checking that you’ve understood. Try and do it in a way that shows you’ve listened to all the details and are really trying to understand what they’re going through. You could say, “It sounds like you’re juggling a few things at the moment and you’re feeling really stretched”.
- If they get angry or upset, stay calm and don’t take it personally. Let them know you’re asking because you care and acknowledge that times seem tough for them.
3: Encourage action
- Help them think about one or two things that can be done to better manage the situation. It might be they take some time out for themselves or do something that’s fun or relaxing.
- Ask “What can I do to help you get through this?” or “How would you like me to support you?”
- If you’ve found a particular strategy or health service useful, share it with them. You can say something like: “When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this… You might find it useful too.”
- If necessary, encourage them to see a doctor or other professional. This is particularly important if they’ve been feeling really down for more than 2 weeks. You could say, “It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I’m happy to assist you to find right person to talk to.”
- Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times, but understand that it may take a bit of time to find the right one.
4: Follow up
- Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of weeks. If they’re really struggling, follow up with them sooner.
- Say something like, “I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to know how you’ve been going since we last chatted.”
- 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.
- You could ask, “Do you think it would be useful if we looked into finding some professional or other support?”
- Understand that sometimes it can take a long time for someone to be ready to see a professional. We can’t rush this or force someone to seek support. Instead, remain optimistic about the benefits of getting help and try not to judge them.
- Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.