What to do when someone’s not OK

What to do when someone’s not OK

If you ask someone if they’re ok, you should be ready for the answer.

It’s RUOK? Day today, so these tips are especially relevant, but they’re also useful any time you’re faced with a friend or loved one who’s struggling. Keep them in mind and remember they’re general pointers, so you have to take your specific situation into account.

Pick the right time to ask

If you suspect someone is going through a rough time, it’s important to have the time and privacy for a proper chat.

Listen, listen and listen some more

You’ve asked the question, now you have a responsibility to listen. Let them speak and explain what’s going on without interruptions. Don’t say things like “that’s awful” or “wow” – go for more minimal encouragements like “mhm” and nodding. If you have questions, save them for an appropriate pause in the conversation. Keep the focus on them, and reflecting back what you’re hearing. Don’t say you know exactly how they feel, or that you went through the same thing.

Don’t try to solve the problem

One mistake a lot of us make is immediately leaping to find an answer or offer practical advice on what our loved ones are going through. But often that person isn’t looking for input on a solution to their woes – first up, they want to be heard and understood. That takes time, so leaping out with quick fixes isn’t going to help. Band-aid solutions or rushed emotional responses can make a person feel like they’re not being heard.

Give them time

Confiding your problems in someone, especially if you think they’re shameful or embarrassing, is a huge step. But it’s also just the first one. Depending on what’s going on, it can take a while to get back to feeling OK. You might have to be there for that person, with messages, going for a walk or lunch, or checking in regularly.

If it’s serious, suggest professional help

Sometimes things can escalate to a crisis level really quickly. If you suspect this is the case, ask directly if they’ve had suicidal thoughts (if that’s too strong, try asking if they’ve thought about talking to someone professional for some extra support). Even if it isn’t at that level, think about pointing them in the direction of some places that can help.



Help with tough times for 14-25 year olds

1800 650 890



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Support for LGBTI people and families

1800 184 527


Suicide Callback Service

1300 659 467

People at risk of suicide, carers and bereaved

1800 55 1800


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