It's RUOK day this Thursday, September 13th. It's spearheaded by Australian suicide prevention organisation 'RUOK?' and is designed to be a 'national day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that any day is the day to ask, “Are you ok?” and support those struggling with life.'
One of the difficulties of supporting someone with a mental illness, is that it can be hard to understand their perspective. It can be hard, (and confronting!) to imagine their mental state, and what they're able to deal with at any given moment. For depression for example, (one of the most common mental illnesses), a lack of motivation and feeling of helplessness are two of the symptoms integral to the diagnosis. This means it's literally part of the condition, to feel unable to do some things that others might find easy.
Some people have called this 'The Impossible Task'. Here's a great article summarising the concept - a task that was once so simple and straightforward, that to a depressed person may feel like climbing a tall mountain. They know they'd feel better if they just did it, and yet, they just can't.
So what can you do?
This is the other difficulty of supporting someone going through a tough time - knowing what to do.
Well, we like the idea of drawing on an understanding of 'the impossible task', and starting small. You can ask someone how they are, (follow RUOK's lead, more here on HOW to ask). And then you can help them do things that may seem small and insignificant to you but may seem momentous to them.
- take them to wash their car
- pick them up from somewhere
- drive them a short distance for an important errand help them pay a parking ticket or their registration online
- do a quick check of the safety of their car for them, maybe top up oil and water if needed
We are focused on keeping the roads safe, so our suggestions of course help do this too.
What we like about this approach is that it means everyone can do something to help. It encourages everyone to ask people around them how they are. It doesn't ask the person who is finding things the most difficult to find strength they don't have, to reach out. Sometimes asking someone in distress to 'reach out' can feel like an accusation when they don't.
It can also be difficult to tell whether someone needs help. What sorts of signs might you look out for? They might appear low, slower than usual, be tearful or angry, seem to be struggling at work, have physical signs like tiredness, weight loss or gain, frequent illness, they may simply just seem different to you. Or, there may be none of these signs at all - and we should still ask. Many mental health advocates say that it's a question we should all be asking each other frequently, even if there are no signs at all. If we could de-stigmatise the question, then maybe it would become easier to ask, and answer.
There might also be some driving-related things you notice. We know that we drive the way we live and work, so someone's driving can actually tell you a lot about how they're doing:
- They might be taking more risks than usual (drinking, driving tired, driving fast)
- They might be showing signs of poor judgement, or lack of skill in areas that are unusual for them
- They might be making silly mistakes, have dings and scratches on their vehicle
- They might seem too exhausted to be behind the wheel, or perhaps too wired to drive.
Here's some more information on how to ask someone if they're ok.
Here's how to get more involved in the cause if you or your organisation are interested.
And here's a whole collection of resources on understanding mental illness, helping those who need it, where to find help in a crisis, and other tools.
We'd love to hear from you - how do you support those around you?