It’s time to ask, are you okay?

It's time to ask, are you okay?

For many years, we’ve used this common phrase without much thought around what it really means to others. Now, more than ever, we need to understand why it is so important.

Suicide is devastating. The impact of the tragedy is felt by the family, loved ones, friends and across the wider community. Having lost my sister to suicide 18 years ago, I can speak from experience. I know that she was clearly not okay!

In 2010, a senate inquiry (The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia) highlighted the potential costs of suicide to individuals, families and communities. I don’t need the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to tell me this and neither do many of you. This is unfortunately very real for us! However, the ABS do record this data and it is alarming to say the least.

In 2013, there were 2,522 deaths from suicide, making it the 14th highest cause of death for all Australians. Nationally, it is the leading cause of death among 15-44 year olds, more common than deaths from motor vehicle accidents. Shockingly, the number is still increasing.

So what can we do about it?

Following the death of his father, Gavin Larkin established the “R U OK” national campaign. Gavin had been developing a documentary to raise awareness about suicide and realised that more needed to be done to make a difference. In fact, just three little words: are you okay?

This was based on suicide prevention research conducted by an academic based in the United States of America, Dr Thomas Joiner. Dr Joiner has been researching why people commit suicide and his theory involves a number of aspects, including people not feeling connected to others and like they are a burden on society.

Asking “are you okay?” can help by:

  • enabling a face-to-face conversation,
  • providing meaningfulness, and
  • breaking down the barriers of feeling like a burden to others.

Things to consider:

  • Be ready yourself
  • Be prepared to listen, and for them to say “no, I am not okay”
  • You don’t have to fix them, you just have to know where to go for help
  • They may not be prepared to talk – yet
  • Listen without judgement
  • Be okay with silence
  • Encourage them to find the words to explain, or just sit with them until they are ready
  • Encourage them by gently exploring further if they want to share
  • Encourage them to seek help, especially if you are really worried, they are talking of suicide or have been feeling really down for more than a couple of weeks
  • Remember to follow up with them at a later stage

While it’s great to always be thinking about how to ask someone if they are okay, I urge you to put it into action. Make it a part of who we are as Australians caring for other Australians.

R U OK? Day is 8 September. Let’s encourage one another to ask the question and to do so as part of developing connectedness.

Catch up with friends for a chat on the phone (voice calls, not just by SMS), visit elderly relatives, touch base with neighbours and speak with colleagues. Who are you going to interact with this week?

Coinciding with R U OK? Day is World Suicide Prevention Day. This is held every year on 10 September with the common goal of preventing suicide. This year, the theme for World Suicide Prevention Day is “connect, communicate and care”. This is all about the negative and positive ripple effect we have on each other’s lives.

The vision statement for Suicide Prevention Australia says it all: A world without suicide.

What a great goal for us all to be working towards. I encourage everyone to get involved and contribute to making this goal a reality. What have we got to lose?


If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, call Lifeline now on 13 11 14.

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