Thursday 9th September is RUOK Day, where we are encouraged to check in with our family, friends and colleagues.
In Australia, one in five people between the ages of 16 and 85 will experience a mental illness in any year, some of the most common being anxiety and depression. Every day, at least six Australians die from suicide, and a further thirty people will attempt to take their own life.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, employers are required to protect both their employees' physical and mental health. In the Early Childhood Education sector, our workplaces are more like extended families. We spend time together in a close environment and may notice small changes that could indicate someone is going through a tough time and needs some extra support.
The team at RUOK suggest the following steps to open up the channels of communication.
How to ask if someone is ok?
Be open and friendly when you approach them. Start by asking simple questions like “How are you going?” or “What’s been happening lately?” If you have noticed a change in behaviour, you could mention it now, such as “You have been a little quiet lately, is everything OK?”
Sometimes people might not want to talk but make it clear that they can talk to you anytime or ask if there is someone else they might prefer to talk to.
Listen with an open mind.
Listen carefully and try not to rush the conversation. You may need to allow them to collect their thoughts. Then, repeat back what they have shared with you to show you have been listening and make sure you have understood correctly. Don’t judge what they share, but do acknowledge that they are going through a difficult time.
They might have experienced similar feelings before. You could ask if they have done other things that may have helped them in the past, or you could ask what the best way is that you could support them. If they have been feeling down for more than two weeks, encourage them to see a health professional, assist them in locating someone if possible and be positive about the role of professionals when trying to cope in difficult times. If you believe they are at risk - contact a professional right away.
RUOK is more than one day a year. So remember to check in with them regularly and continue to offer assistance or just to listen. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.
For more information and resources, head to www.ruok.org.au.
Useful contacts for someone who’s not OK
Encourage them to call on these Australian crisis lines and professionals:
Beyond Blue (24/7) 1300 224 636 beyondblue.org.au
SANE Australia: 1800 18 SANE (7263) sane.org
More contacts: ruok.org.au/findhelp