Today is R U OK Day in Australia. A day when we are supposed to ask our friends and relatives if they are ok in the hope of opening channels of communication for people living with depression.
While I think that anything that gets people talking about mental health is a good thing, I’m not sure how much uptake people get from R U OK Day. I have had several periods of low mood and depression during my life and had someone asked if I was ok, I’d have given them my best smile and said, ‘Yeah, great thanks’. Or if I didn’t think I’d convince them then I’d say, ‘Yeah, just tired’. What I wouldn’t say is, ‘No, I feel like shit and want to sleep forever’, or maybe ‘no, the world and everyone in it would be better off without me’, or even, ‘no, it was all I could do not to drive/walk into oncoming traffic on the way here’.
And what on earth do you do if someone who you know answers in this way?! Imagine, you are expecting a cheery, ‘Yup, everything’s peachy’, and instead you get, ‘I spend hours regretting every decision I’ve ever made’.
My suggestions for the people on either side of this conversation are:
If you are worried about a friend, family member or colleague then approach them at a time when you have time and peace to talk, maybe with a coffee or a cake (just sayin’ 😉 )and say something along the lines of, ‘I’m concerned about you, are you feeling ok?’ Or ‘I’ve noticed you’ve been quiet/looking sad/distracted and I was wondering if there’s anything I can do to help?’ . Then listen, properly listen, offer no advice that is not asked for except maybe suggesting that they see their doctor. Then remind your friend that you are there for them whenever they need you.
If you are the person who is low and you trust this person, TELL THEM!!! Tell them whatever you are feeling or whatever it takes for you to feel better – and I promise you WILL feel better. Some of the most horrible things about depression are the isolation and the negative thoughts it feeds you. And once you’ve told them, go and see a doctor. You can discuss treatment options which will help you to feel like a human being again.
Depression does not happen because you have been too strong for too long (geez, I have that meme, it always makes my brain say, ‘See, if you’d just been a liiiiitle bit stronger for a liiiiitle bit longer you’d have been fine YOU USELESS FAILURE!!!’. Depression happens because our brains are incredibly complex, delicately balanced miracles of nature and sometimes for whatever reason – even NO OBVIOUS REASON AT ALL – that balance is lost. It’s not your fault, you can get better and the friend who asks if you are ok wants to help.