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RUOK Day, September 8th

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide affecting people from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Nearly three million Australians live with depression or anxiety (or both), which affect their wellbeing, personal relationships, career and productivity.

RUOK? is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to encourage and equip everyone to regularly and meaningfully ask “are you ok?” Their annual RUOK Day, taking place on September 8, is a reminder for us to check in on those close to us who might be struggling and meaningfully ask them “are you ok?”.

“The biggest message is letting someone know they are not alone in this struggle and that you are there to help them through it,” says Clinical Psychologist Samantha Clarke. “Whether that’s to listen, to get them outside and go for a walk (exercise can help), or being there to schedule and even take them to appointments.”

When someone is struggling just knowing they have someone there who cares and supports them can do wonders for their mental state. “In my experience, talking, sharing and feeling loved, accepted and supported by their family can be the breakthrough for people going through a hard time,” explains Samantha. “Depression can be scary for all involved and the key is support.” 

Clinical Psychologist Samantha Clarke further explains how you can recognise the signs of depression and how to approach a loved one that might be feeling depressed:

What are the telling signs that your friend or family member might not be okay?
They may start to withdraw. You may notice a change in behaviour and mood – they are irritable or flat, turn down invitations, they don’t enjoy things they used to, they express a lack of hopefulness for the future. Also, e
ngaging in overly reckless and harmful behaviour like drugs, alcohol or self harm can be a sign of something more serious.

How do you prepare for the ‘are you ok’ conversation?

Use accepting language and body language and communicate from a loving and caring place. Always start with framing the conversation, eg “This is not an easy conversation to have, but I need to bring this up as I care about you and want to be here for you in the best way I can.” 

Allowing someone a space to talk is really important – just letting them know you are there and that you are concerned is important. Try not to ask why? Often people who feel depressed don’t have ‘a reason’ and asking why can lead to them feel invalidated, ashamed and they may shut down and withdraw. Often people will say they are fine in order to shut down the conversation. This is where I urge you to be brave and stick with it. “I know you are saying you are fine….and maybe you are. I am still concerned about you. Is there anything that would be helpful for you to talk about right now?”

What can you do if your friend or family member says they’re not okay? 

If they do say they are not ok allow them the space to share. Keep the conversation open. “Things like, have you felt this way before? If so, did anything help? How did you get through it?” Check in to see if they feel safe right now? Stay open, calm and nurturing. Ask them if they see a professional at all and would they like you to arrange an appointment. If they don’t regularly see someone you can ask if they would be open to this. If anyone is having suicidal thoughts or experiencing depression they should see someone. Further, depression and even suicidal ideation is linked to physical health issues such as nutrient deficiency, and microbe imbalances, and there may be some underlying health issue which may need to be addressed to improve mental wellness. 

If you think your loved one would benefit from seeking professional help make sure you get an excellent recommendation.

Seek out a psychologist who others have given you good feedback about. Do some research and then let your loved one know you will be there for them. I once had a client who was referred to me by her friends. Each session one of her friends brought her to the session and took her home. I seriously believe this may have been more important to improving her mental health than just sessions with me. 

Make sure whatever you offer, you follow through with.

Depression isn’t quickly resolved so connect with your values in the relationship and work on maintaining your commitments. A team of support can be helpful and ensuring that you have support and someone to talk.

Dr Samantha Clarke (PhD)

Samantha Clarke is a Clinical Psychologist and Personal Trainer who specialises in working with adolescents, adults and their families. With emphasis on helping each individual move towards a more fulfilling and meaningful life, Samantha provides people with the skills to work through difficulties. She also believes that wellbeing and vitality come from incorporating a holistic approach to health care.

Samantha’s work has a strong foundation in providing Mindfulness-based interventions and she is particularly interested in assisting people with addressing lifestyle difficulties and overall wellness. She completed her PhD in the area of goal setting and striving, and focuses on assisting people in clarifying their values to assist in building and maintaining motivation to achieve health goals.

Samantha is the Director of a psychology practice on the Sunshine Coast. She also provides personal training and runs Mind Body Resilience Retreats for wellness industry professionals and individuals in Australia and overseas.