R U OK? The power of being socially connected

The words "R U OK? A conversation could change a life." are written in black over a yellow background.

Being socially connected is one of the most important things people can do to protect their mental health.

With today marking this year’s annual R U OK? Day, it’s crucial to recognise that fostering good mental health, offering support and being able to engage with appropriate professional services are things that should be encouraged and accessible every single day of the year. 

Monash Health Senior Clinical Psychologist Sika Turner said the main take-away of R U OK? Day should be the importance of social connection and being tuned into others wellbeing. 

“Stay socially connected is in some way the intention behind the whole day, as it’s not just about asking the question and feeling free to talk about your mental health on one single day of the year,” she said. 

“We should all be working towards being present with others all year around, not just on this day.” 

Noticing a change in behaviour, such as isolating and withdrawing more, visibly looking upset, and being directly told about an upsetting issue in someone’s life are signs you can look out for to indicate whether a friend, family or colleague is not doing well. 

If someone does disclose to you that they’re not okay, Dr Turner said the most important thing to do is to acknowledge and validate their emotions and experiences. 

“Express empathy and ensure they know you’ve listened to them,” she said. 

“You could say you’re sorry to hear that they’re not doing well, and then ask if they’d like to talk about it more or whether there is anything you can do to help as a next step.” 

She said it was important to not offer to help or do more if you don’t have the time and space to do so. 

“Sometimes we don’t have the capacity to help, and that’s also okay,” Dr Turner said. 

It’s also important to confide in people that you have some degree of trust in and reason to believe they may lend you an empathic ear. 

“The thing that often surprises people is once they open up about an issue, others will often say they’ve also had that experience and it’s not just you, which can be very validating,” she said. 

“If we can speak up, we can know we aren’t alone in our suffering.” 

The clinical psychologist said it’s important to understand and respect that some people do not want to talk about their mental health. 

“It’s okay for people to not admit the truth if they feel that’s the best thing to do to protect their mental health, as long as they know that if they want too, they do have people that will listen to them,” Dr Turner said. 

Most importantly, Dr Turner said protecting your mental health is essential for the same reason it’s essential to protect all parts of our general wellbeing. 

“Mental health is not isolated and not separate from everything else, it permeates all other aspects of our lives,” she said. 

“Prevention is a lot more effective than someone becoming very unwell, which may impact every part of their life.”