02 Sep 2021

What to do if the answer to the question ‘R U OK?’ is NO!

V2 Chris Rhyss Edwards RUOK

R U OK? day is rapidly approaching, and what more relevant time could it be to ask such a significant question than when half the country is in lockdown, socially isolated by law, and more than likely nervously wondering what happens next.


Since its inception in 2009, the R U OK? campaign has become a cornerstone in a national push to raise awareness around mental health and suicide. And clearly it’s working.


University of Melbourne research reveals that the campaign continues to be relevant and effective in encouraging people to reach out to others by empowering members of the community to have big conversations. Why? Because conversations can change lives.


Truth is, I’m alive today because someone asked me that big, scary, ugly, but well-intentioned question back in 2016, when at the lowest point in my life I was pondering taking the easy way out whilst standing atop a seven-story building.


I’m very glad my mate had the courage to ask me that question, but having the courage to ask R U OK? is one thing, knowing when to ask and what to say and do if the answer is a resounding NO! is another. Here are a few points to consider…


  • First, let’s consider why you’d ask in the first place. Have you noticed your friend, family member, or co-worker becoming withdrawn, changing their online behaviour, becoming less interested in their appearance or personal hygiene, experiencing mood swings, or not sleeping? If so, this may well be a good time to reach out and connect with them.


  • Next, consider the timing. When reaching out to connect with someone, you’ll need to time it right for both parties. You’ll need to make sure you’re ready and know what you’re going to say, and that they don’t feel cornered, judged or threatened.


  • Finally, when you do check in, don’t be overly concerned about using the exact phrasing ‘R U OK?’, rather, use the language you’d normally use when talking to a friend after a relationship breakup, being fired from work, or after they fall down the stairs in front of you. Keep it genuine.


Truth is, you don’t even have to ask the question, it’s just as easy (and often less confronting) to reach out and connect with someone over a shared social activity and then let the conversation bubble up naturally. Give them a call out of the blue because ‘it’s been a while’. Suggest a virtual games night over Zoom. Meet at the local dog park over coffee.


When the conversation starts to get deeper, a strategy I use on a fairly regular basis is to kick things off by sharing my story – what I’m struggling with – as this often creates a safe space of shared experience and gives people permission to open up.


There’s value to be had by starting big conversations and listening to people’s problems: sometimes that’s all it takes. But at the times when that’s not enough, when someone tells you they’re not OK, then you need to be ready. Start by asking them if they’d like to talk about it, then shut up and listen and try not to provide answers or solutions. And if that’s not enough, have the courage to suggest they connect with a local GP or professional support service like Lifeline.


Nobody knows when the COVID situation will be resolved, but what we do know is that lives are changed and saved through courage, human connection, and heartfelt conversations. So, this R U OK? day, reach out and connect with the important people in your life – just in case – because you never know where someone’s at until you ask.


If nothing else comes out of it, your actions might just remind someone that they’re not alone, they’re loved, and that someone cares.



Chris Rhyss Edwards is a veteran, entrepreneur, author and digital antagonist.

He spent the 1990’s in the Australian Defence Force as a combat engineer and peacekeeper. Chris has spent the last 20 years in the digital sector building products and teams for NewsCorp, Telstra and Clemenger. He is the also the founder of global award-winning, world-first health-tech start-up Soldier.ly.

His aim is to help individuals and organisations move from black and white thinking towards ‘embracing the grey’. He is also the author of Good Reasons to Kill: An Anthology of Morality, Murder & Collective Madness.

Find out more about Chris


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