RUOK Day” is an Australian national day of action dedicated to reminding people to ask family, friends, and colleagues the important question: “Are you okay?”
The aim is to promote mental health awareness, encourage open conversations about mental wellbeing, and provide support to those who may be struggling. While this initiative primarily focuses on checking in with friends, family, and colleagues, it’s especially important to ask ageing parents if they are okay for several reasons:
- Isolation and loneliness
Ageing parents may experience increased isolation and loneliness as they grow older, especially if they live alone or have lost a spouse. Asking if they are okay can help combat feelings of isolation and provide emotional support.
- Physical health
Ageing parents may face various health challenges that can impact their mental wellbeing. Chronic illnesses, mobility issues, and pain can take a toll on their mental health. Asking if they are okay can help identify any mental health concerns related to their physical health.
- Loss and grief
As parents age, they may experience the loss of friends, family members, or their own spouses. Coping with grief and loss can be emotionally challenging, and checking in allows them to talk about their feelings and seek support if needed.
- Financial stress
Managing finances in retirement can be stressful, and ageing parents may worry about their financial security. Asking if they are okay can provide an opportunity to discuss financial concerns and explore available resources or assistance.
- Mental health issues
Mental health problems can affect individuals of all ages, including older adults. Conditions like depression and anxiety are not limited to any specific age group. Asking if they are okay can help identify signs of mental health issues and encourage seeking professional help if necessary.
- Communication and connection
Regularly checking in with ageing parents fosters communication and maintains a strong emotional connection. It shows that you care about their wellbeing and are there to support them through life’s challenges. It can also provide them with a sense of security and belonging.
- Early intervention
Identifying potential issues early can lead to earlier intervention and treatment, which can be crucial for managing mental health problems effectively.
- Reducing stigma
Initiating conversations about mental health with ageing parents helps reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. It sets a positive example for open and honest communication about mental wellbeing. Not just theirs, but maybe your own or other family members too.
- Encouraging self-care
By asking if they are okay, you may prompt your ageing parents to consider their own self-care and wellbeing, which can lead to healthier lifestyle choices.
- Modelling empathy
“Be the change you want to see in the world” is a well-known quote. If you would like your ageing parents to show more empathy to you and the care giving role you provide, asking if they are OK may model the behaviour you’d like to see in them.
The RUOK website has a range of resources to help you ask someone if they are OK, including the four steps to asking if someone is OK.
- Encourage action
- Check in
- Ask are you ok?
- Be relaxed
- Help them open up by asking questions like “How are you going?” or “What’s been happening?” or “I’ve noticed that you’re not quite yourself lately. How are you travelling?”
- Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like “I’ve noticed that you seem really tired recently” or “You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?”
- Take what they say seriously
- Don’t interrupt or rush the conversation
- If they need time to think, try and sit patiently with the silence
- Encourage them to explain
- If they get angry or upset, stay calm and don’t take it personally
- Let them know you’re asking because you’re concerned
- Ask “How are you feeling about that?” or “How long have you felt that way?”
- Show that you’ve listened by checking that you’ve understood. You could say, “It sounds like you’re missing your friends and you’re feeling lonely.”
If they get angry or upset, stay calm and don’t take it personally. Let them know you’re asking because you care and acknowledge that times seem tough for them
- Encourage action
- Help them think about one or two things that can be done to better manage the situation. It might be they take some time out for themselves or do something that’s fun or relaxing.
- Ask “What can I do to help you get through this?” or “How would you like me to support you?”
- If you’ve found a particular strategy or health service useful, share it with them. You can say something like: “When I was going through a difficult time, I tried this… You might find it useful too.”
- If necessary, encourage them to see a doctor or other professional. This is particularly important if they’ve been feeling really down for more than two weeks. You could say, “It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I’m happy to assist you to find right person to talk to.”
- Be positive about the role of professionals in getting through tough times, but understand that it may take a bit of time to find the right one.
- Check in
- Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of weeks. If they’re really struggling, check in with them sooner.
- Say something like, “I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to know how you’ve been going since we last chatted.”
- Ask if they’ve found a better way to manage the situation. If they haven’t done anything, don’t judge them. They might just need someone to listen to them for the moment.
- You could ask, “Do you think it would be useful if we looked into finding some professional or other support?”
- Understand that sometimes it can take a long time for someone to be ready to see a professional.
- We can’t rush this or force someone to seek support. Instead, remain optimistic about the benefits of getting help and try not to judge them.
- Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference.
Take care of yourself
It’s important that you also look after yourself so be sure to:
- Make sure you’re ready to take on the conversation using the questions above. If you’re not, then don’t start the conversation.
- Feel free to share your own stories with other carers so you feel you’re not alone.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat well.
Some useful links:
ROK website for more tips on having meaningful conversations – A conversation could change a life | R U OK?
For when the conversation makes you think the person needs professional help – Where can I get help | R U OK?
Carers’ Circle article on having empowered conversations with your parents – https://carerscircle.com.au/2020/12/28/how-to-better-communicate-with-our-ageing-parents/
Carers’ Circle article on companionship for seniors to help with loneliness – Four benefits of companionship for seniors – Carers Circle
Empowered Conversations online shop with resources on how to have better conversations with your ageing parents and more – https://www.empoweredconversations.com.au/books-cards/
Photo credit: Elderly woman getting bad news on RawPixel