“Hey, are you OK?” It’s a simple question, and it can make all the difference. You only need to listen to those who have contemplated suicide or, to those who would probably have attempted had it not been for the intervention of a kind stranger. For some, it quite literally saved their life.
It’s a question that can be both easy and difficult to ask depending on the situation. Imagine you are at the supermarket and saw an elderly person struggling with their shopping, or walking down the street and noticed a person looking lost. Would you ask: “are you OK?” and perhaps “would you like any help?”
What about this situation? Imagine that you are walking through the park and observed a person sat on a bench crying. Would you go up to them and ask if they are OK? Probably not. The fear of not knowing what to do stops us asking – if I don’t ask, then I don’t have to deal with it. If, however, the person was crying and was bleeding from an injury, I guess you would instantly ask them if they needed an ambulance. Oddly, when it comes to something intangible, like helping someone in emotional pain, we seem to get stuck. The simple way to help is to keep it simple – offer a tissue and a little of your time to listen. The likely scenario is that the person won’t need any help; they are quite capable of helping themselves. Just showing that you care will have made a difference; sometimes that difference will be life changing.
Another reason why we probably wouldn’t ask is because we don’t always want to engage with the world around us. Life is busy, stressful and sometimes tough for us to. Finding the time, or the emotional energy to reach out to someone else isn’t something we may feel able to do, and perhaps there are times when someone should ask us!
In fact, this is where the #HeyareyouOK? campaign starts – with us. The old adage – you can’t love someone unless you learn to love yourself first – will help here. If we don’t recognise distress in ourselves, then it is unlikely that we will be able to recognise it in others. Furthermore, if we don’t know how to help ourselves, we are unlikely to be able to guide others to do the same.
And then there is the problem of culture. We all acknowledge stress as a fact of life, and most of us know how to help ourselves cope with it. Distress, on the other hand is understood as something less desirable, something ‘different’ and mentally unstable.
Distress is best understood as extreme stress. You don’t have to have a mental illness to become distressed, but distress can be felt when you have a mental illness. It is a normal reaction to very difficult situations and traumatic life events. It is experienced when our ability to cope is tested and challenged to almost breaking point. We carry on trying to cope because that is what is valued in our society – to soldier on and work through it. And, we avoid talking about the distress we feel for fear of being labelled a failure. Ironically, this only adds to the problem, increasing the distress further to the point when suicide becomes an option as a way of coping with the unbearable emotional pain felt.
What if we reverse this perception? What if acknowledging distress was a fact of life, and seeking help early was not only acceptable but also valued? Well, perhaps if it was reversed, we can help make a positive difference to many peoples lives, including our own. Perhaps also, we can help ‘before’ suicide becomes an option.
#HeyareyouOK? Join the campaign and help make a difference and change a culture
You don’t have to be a trained professional, or know anything about suicide, or mental health. And you aren’t expected to do more than you are able to – even if you don’t feel like engaging with someone else because you are having a bad day yourself – that’s OK, just concentrate on looking after yourself.
3 simple steps to #HeyareyouOK?
Step 1: Looking after yourself (recognising distress, finding ways to help you to cope, and knowing when to ask for help & support)
Step 2: If you see someone needing help or in distress ask if they are “OK”
Step 3: If you feel able to, offer help and support
Keep it simple and know your limitations. Don’t offer anything that you can’t deliver – false or broken promises can be shattering
Have you asked the question? We would like to hear your story.
Tweet @GGreen2 #HeyareyouOK?