A Psychologist’s Guide On What To Say After The R U Ok? Question - Men's Health Magazine Australia

A Psychologist’s Guide On What To Say After The R U Ok? Question

What to do if someone answers no.

R U OK Day is on Thursday 8th September, marking the date that everyone is encouraged to check in on one another and ask ‘R U OK?’ when it comes to talking about mental health. Initiating this conversation is an incredibly important first step, however if the answer is ‘no’, knowing to what to say and do next is just as important.

 Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno provides advice below on what to do if someone answers no.

Consider how you ask the question

Before jumping right in and asking someone R U OK?, consider how you’re asking the question first. Is it in front of a group of people or at work when others are in ear shot? Or is it right before you go to bed or when someone is rushing out the door? If that’s the case for any of those scenarios, try to find a better time or a more private environment. People are going to feel less likely to want to open up if they think others are listening. They’re also less likely to give you much of a response if they’re rushing out the door. It’s important to also note that it’s best to avoid having conversations about emotional wellbeing right before bed, as this can mean you’re getting the other person – and yourself – to really think about things, which could keep you both up at night. 

Listen carefully

When you are having this conversation, try to place an emphasis on just listening and letting them talk if the conversationgoes that way. Try not to interrupt when they’re speaking and focus on what they’re saying, rather than what you’re going tosay next. Humans often naturally do this (think a lot about what they’re going to say rather than what the other person is saying), so it does take some focus to just listen. However, active listening is incredibly important to ensure that the otherperson really feels heard. Sometimes just having someone hold space for you can make a person feel better, and if youbecome a person that truly listens, they might turn to you when they need to talk about their feelings the most. 

Ask follow up questions

If a person responds with a simple no, or even if they respond with a simple yes, try to ask some follow up questions, such as “why do you think that might be, is there anything I can help with?” or “glad to hear things are going well for you, please know that I’m always here for you if you ever need.” Asking follow up questions can encourage the other person to give youmore than a yes or no response, with the intent being that they might open up to you more if they’re not ok.

Avoid judgement

No matter the response, always avoid judging the other person. If there is any hint of judgement, the other person will likely pick up on it and shut down. You want to make them feel comfortable opening up to you and giving you an honest answer. Knowing how they truly feel will better allow you to help them if they need it.


While it’s best to avoid using statements that dismiss or mitigate how they’re feeling, like “everything will be ok” or “stay positive”, you do need to reassure them that there is help available. Make sure they know that you are there for them if they need it, and if they don’t feel like they can turn to you, there is other help available.

Offer to help

Sometimes offering to help in practical ways can help a person in emotional ways. Perhaps they’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or burnt out, all of which has a big emotional impact, but practical things can help. Offering to make them some meals for the week, do their groceries, pick up their dry cleaning, or minding their children, can be practical help that can ease their mental load.

Encourage action

While it can be expected to have bad days here and there, if a person is finding that those bad days are turning into weeks, it’s really important that they seek help. There are many avenues available in Australia that can provide assistance tosomeone who wants to seek mental health help, or even someone who simply needs to talk. Reach out to friends and family and explain how you’re feeling and if needed, speak to a professional. Lifeline and Beyond Blue are services that provide free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts who can help you to understand your feelings. Services like Lysn provide access to psychologists via video chat, which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home around the clock. These services can be instrumental in providing the support you need to help you getting back to feeling ok.  

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