Warning: This article contains mentions of suicide. If you or someone you love needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Asking someone if they are OK can be the start of an important conversation, but genuinely listening to their answer is key, according to a suicide prevention charity.
This year, for R U OK? Day we’re encouraged to think about the importance of listening – today’s theme is “I’m here to hear”.
Andy Arnold, community ambassador for R U OK?, believes this is about showing people you care.
“It’s very easy to go and ask someone ‘hey, how are you going?’ as a throwaway line and they might say ‘yeah, good thanks’ and you just walk off,” he told Hope 103.2.
“But it’s about digging a bit deeper… if you make it comfortable for them to open up, you’re actually standing there and you’re listening to them actively.”
Mr Arnold also volunteers at Lifeline and has been learning about the power of listening over the past few years.
“So many people out there are struggling and whatever it might be, whatever their crisis might be… people just want to feel heard, they want to feel listened to.”
In 2014, Mr Arnold lost his younger brother to suicide.
“I look back at that time and just think I wish I knew the signs better; I wish I knew how to have a real meaningful conversation,” he said.
“Losing James set me on a path that I feel is my mission and calling in life, to help try and make a difference in my communities and people in my life around mental health and suicide awareness.”
“It’s very easy to go and ask someone ‘hey, how are you going?’ as a throwaway line,” – Andy Arnold, community ambassador for R U OK?
Importance of Christian community
Mr Arnold has grown up going to church, is part of a Christian community and his faith is the “biggest driving force in (his) life”.
“The message from God and from Jesus, (as can be seen in the) story of the Good Samaritan… it’s about kindness; I think kindness is one of the most amazing and powerful forces that we can use.”
He believes this kindness should be a motivator for Christians to check in to see how people are going.
“Our approach should be with that approach of kindness and empathy and compassion, showing it to anyone, no matter where they’re from or what they believe,” Mr Arnold said.
“As Christians we should be looking out for others and helping to break down that stigma (around mental health challenges).”
The power of a simple question
Research conducted by Fiftyfive5 for this year’s R U OK? Day campaign found that more than four in five people who engaged in a meaningful conversation felt better about managing their situation afterwards.
Respondents surveyed for the research said they needed to trust the person they were speaking to, to know they were being genuinely listened to and preferred to have these conversations in a relatively private place.
“We always use the analogy ‘don’t ask at the bus stop’ – it’s a public place and then one of them is going to get on the bus and that’s the end of the conversation,” Mr Arnold said.
“Don’t ask me in a crowded room or in front of other people or embarrassing anyone… you want to practice active listening.”
“As Christians we should be looking out for others and helping to break down that stigma,”– Andy Arnold, community ambassador for R U OK?
Mr Arnold said it’s OK to check in with someone over the phone.
“You could have a phone conversation, it’s OK to do that, you could even ask someone via a text message or an online chat,” he said.
“But, obviously, if you’re doing it, you want to be actively involved, you want to be engaged in that conversation… and not shying away from it or coming back to it a day later.
“However you have the conversation, you want to be active in it and showing that you care.”
How to listen well
To ensure the other person feels heard, there are a few things that can be done, Mr Arnold said.
“Active listening is where you use eye contact, you’re careful with your body language (and) you engage enough in the conversation without taking it over, to show you’re listening.
“(You are) acknowledging what they’re saying, repeating back to them (and) asking for more information.
“If you really show that you’re listening and taking in what they’re saying, it’s going to allow them to open up more and more because they’re going to feel cared for and feel heard.”
Signs to look out for
Asking people if they’re OK and genuinely listening are important, but there’s a step before that that’s also important.
“Being aware of those around you, looking out for others and being aware (is important) because that’s what’s going to help us to know when to check in,” Mr Arnold said.
This will allow people to recognise when someone might not be doing OK, he said; some of the signs to look out for include changes in peoples’ daily routines, habits and personas.
“It might be that someone who’s relatively quiet and keeps to themselves has reversed that and they’re very loud and out there.
“Same with someone who is normally very buoyant, and an extrovert might be very quiet and not joining in with anything.”
“If you really show that you’re listening and taking in what they’re saying, it’s going to allow them to open up more,” – Andy Arnold, community ambassador for R U OK?
Although RU OK? Day takes place every year, R U OK? would like these conversations to be happening daily.
“Every day is the day to check in on your family and friends and colleagues and ask ‘are you OK?’,” Mr Arnold said.
“We all play a part in breaking down the stigma and pushing that message out.”
Although R U OK? Day takes place every year, R U OK? would like these conversations to be happening daily.