Last Thursday it was R U OK Day here in Australia. R U OK Day is meant to remind people to ask their friends and workmates whether their mental health is OK.
In theory, the day is meant to remind people that they should check in on their friends and workmates on a regular basis. In practice, it often seems that social media suddenly becomes full of R U OK? messages on that one day.
I’ve blogged previously about our daughter’s struggles with mental illness, and we were talking this week about whether R U OK Day is actually helpful. And as she’s very switched into the mental illness social media feeling, she was able to tell me that many people with mental illness regard the day as a waste of time.
You see, people in groups she’s part of, have said that they’ve been asked the question on R U OK Day, but rarely any other time, and even then, when they’ve answered honestly, the asker has often vanished from the radar.
I’m sure many people mean well, but with mental health, you can’t just check in momentarily, and then never again. People who are struggling with mental health issues need people to be there for the long haul. They also need people not to give up on them or vanish when the answer isn’t “I’m fine.”
And when people do answer honestly, we’re often unprepared to deal with the outcomes. Mental illness is no different to cancer, or an auto-immune disease, or in fact, any other long term illness. It happens, and it can’t be wished away. People can’t just decide to ‘cheer up’ or ‘get over it.’
In fact, advice to do either is extraordinarily unhelpful.
So when you hear about something like R U OK Day, maybe remember that the question shouldn’t only be asked on that day. Or that the answer to your question might not be the one you expect, or want, and be prepared to help someone who’s just answered honestly that they’re not well or OK.
Here’s a couple of resources for you: