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R U really OK?

We explore some of the early mental health indicator signs you should look for in those around you and how to navigate the conversation if someone tells you they are not OK. 

By Christi Malthouse

Are you OK?

It’s a relatively simple question, but often there’s not a simple answer. 

What if you haven’t been feeling yourself lately, but you’re not sure what that means? What if someone close to you has been out of step with their general disposition, but they aren’t admitting to anything being wrong? 

Is it time to panic, hide, or intervene? No, it’s time to watch and listen.

With lockdowns still part of our day-to-day life, there has perhaps never been a more poignant time to address this issue. As much of Australia navigate the realities of another lockdown, and all Australian’s adapt to a new “normal”, being OK has taken on new meaning. 

And not being OK is becoming more common. 1 in 5 Australians are dealing with a mental health issue. 

But how do we know if it’s an illness that needs to be diagnosed by a professional, or just a bad mood?

Professor Greg Murray, Director of Swinburne University’s Centre for Mental Health says there’s one key factor to look for – changes in people.

He says, look for the person who is normally talkative but who has been quiet for a few days. The person who is normally quiet, but who has become irritable and even angry, making negative comments about the world, the workplace, or other people.

“Dark circles under the eyes can suggest problems with sleep.”

Professor Murray says when we ask, R U OK?, to listen to the answer and see if there are signs of hopelessness (believing that things are too difficult and aren’t going to get better,) or helplessness (believing that there’s nothing they can do to solve their problems.)

There is no one cause of mental illness – according to Headspace, an organisation for children and young adults – instead there are a number of overlapping factors. 

If symptoms have been occurring for more than a few weeks and are having an impact on relationships, study, or sleep, then Headspace suggests it’s time to seek help.

“Look for the person who is normally talkative but who has been quiet for a few days. The person who is normally quiet, but who has become irritable and even angry, making negative comments about the world, the workplace, or other people.”

Professor Greg Murray, Swinburne University’s Centre for Mental Health


Reach out to a trusted family member, or friend or colleague, or go to one of these helpful websites:

Beyond Blue beyondblue.org.au         Reach OUT reachout.com

Headspace headspace.org.au            Kids Helpline kidshelpline.com.au

Lifeline lifeline.org.au                        SANE Australia sane.org

R U OK? ruok.org.au                          Readiness readiness.org.au


Early intervention is key to diagnosing and dealing with a mental health issue. 

Readiness, which is scientifically backed by the Swinburne University’s Centre for Mental Health, is a world class tool for the early identification of employee and student mental health and wellbeing issues. Within an organisation, it aims to alert users to a potential issue by raising a red flag and initiating a help response. The earlier the better, but, help delivered at any stage is the ultimate outcome.

Of course, there are lots of ways to look after your own mental health. Eat well, be active every day, get enough sleep, cut down on alcohol consumption, go outside and safely get some sun, get back to nature more often, and create connections with people around you.

Where shame and fear were once words associated with mental health, they are beginning to be replaced by terms like acceptance and encouragement. Thanks to the hard work of many in creating awareness, the attitude is finally shifting. 

“Australia has taken significant strides towards destigmatising many mental health issues,” says professor Murray. “This has been demonstrated during COVID. Politicians and other commentators have consistently shown not just awareness, but empathy for the emotional impacts of isolation.”

So remember, when you ask a friend, R U OK?, follow it up with, R U really OK? And ask yourself the same question.

To find out how Readiness can assist your workplace or school with identifying the early indicators of mental health or wellness issues, click here.