RUOK is a suicide prevention charity in Australia that reminds people that ‘conversations’ need to happen every day. It is an annual day in September, dedicated to remind people to ask family, friends and colleagues the question, ‘R U OK?’ in a meaningful way.
We all know that depression (the main cause behind suicide) is a silent, and often not so silent, killer, but does asking someone on a particular day of the year if they are OK help? Maybe asking someone this question on this particular day will make you feel good about yourself, but if you are not keeping an eye on someone and connecting with that person if you think might not be OK, as often as you can, and asking them that very question as often as practicable, then do you really think that someone who is not OK is going to be honest in their answer to you?
Yeah, I am fine.
Yeah, of course I am OK.
I’m doing good.
More often than not you will get an answer similar to one of those above, but then the subject of ‘are you OK’ will be changed very quickly to something mundane like the weather for instance, or the footy or cricket scores – chances of you getting an honest answer are very slim.
Please, do not get me wrong, I believe in R U OK day because it creates awareness of an insidious illness and what can be the outcome, but on its own, it really doesn’t do much good – we need to care more about people who are important to us.
Life has changed over the years. As a whole, we have become so busy that we have no time for anyone other than our immediate family – in fact, many of us, because of our busy lifestyles, have become incredibly self-absorbed. In all honesty, we have very little idea of what is going on in our friends’ and work colleagues lives, and neighbours, well, in most cases we barely even know them.
My neighbours – I know the names of the people who live on either side of me, we wave to each other as we drive off in our cars, but do I know anything about them – no. Would they tell me (if I asked) if they were not doing OK? Of course not.
My friends – I have a small group of friends – I used to always ask if they were OK. Even though we were/are pretty close, they would usually give me one of those generic answers above, but on the occasion they would open up about something. I thought I was a good listener and only offer advice when it was asked for, but rarely has anyone taken any of these conversations any further than just a few grumbles. My group of friends ask about me and if I am OK when we get together, but there is only one who will call, text or visit to check in on me.
I am very lucky with my immediate family, we are always looking out for each other and of course we whinge from time to time about each other, but if any single one of us needed help in any way we would always rally to support them and we always ask if everyone is OK.
Non immediate family – that’s a different matter. Again, we are all incredibly busy with our own lives – it could be said that we have lost touch. We all live in the same state but we can’t find the time to phone, email, text or catch up, let alone ask if they are OK. I know that there are plenty of families who do better at this than mine does but I also know I am not alone in being simply too busy.
Asking one simple question on a rare occasion just doesn’t cut it. There is no point in being sad about Mr or Mrs whoever next door, having just died, when you didn’t really know who they were in the first place. Or a work colleague who suddenly doesn’t turn up to work anymore – did you make an effort to really know that person? Was that person someone you REALLY wanted to know? Or was it just a work colleague who you spent hours each day with but other than passing the time of day when you had a spare moment did you want to get to ‘know’ that person?
There is equally no point in expecting someone to ask you if you are OK when it just isn’t in their makeup. It is very true that some people are so busy with their own lives that they appear to just not care at all – maybe they don’t. Maybe they look at friendships and relationships differently to the way you do. It doesn’t make them a bad or nasty person – it just makes them different to you.
What I am saying with all of this is, if you care enough about someone that you want them to somehow be in your life – MAKE THE EFFORT. Then, and only then, when trust is gained, will you have any kind of chance of someone opening up to you – that’s who, and when, you should be asking ‘R U OK?’
R U OK day is working in the right direction, but unfortunately there is much, much more than a question being asked that is required to help someone in need.