Reaching out to a friend who is struggling is an important first step, says campaigner

Patrick Lawson, founder of "3 Words. I Need Help".
Patrick Lawson, founder of "3 Words. I Need Help".

Patrick Lawson knows from personal experience that sometimes the answer to “are you OK?” is no.

The former Riverina man, who has used his own experiences with mental health and an attempted suicide to begin the “3 Words. I Need Help” campaign, said it can be “pretty bloody hard to get people to say they need help”.

“People can be so stubborn. We tend to believe we don’t need help, that we can fix ourselves,” Mr Lawson said. “But sometimes, we can’t fix ourselves.”

R U OK Day on Thursday aims to encourage people to take time to notice of what is going on with family, friends and colleagues – and themselves.

Mr Lawson, a dad of two who now lives in Corowa, said his advice for the family and friends of someone who might be struggling was to be ready to talk before asking, “are you OK?”

“I had been in the depths of struggle for so long, but it was not until the day of my attempt that I did speak up,” he said.

“It can be pretty hard for someone to speak up.”

Mr Lawson believes that it is important for people who are concerned about a loved one to speak out – and to ask if they are OK.

“Just checking in with someone to make sure they are OK shows you care,” he said.

“One of the biggest things is to try to ensure the person knows you are asking because you care.

“And because you care, you have to be willing to step up.”

Mr Lawson suggests a starting point for getting help can be organisations like LifeLine or BeyondBlue.

"Utilise those mental health programs. They have some fantastic resources,” he said.

“But if you know the person, you’ll also know how to talk to them.

“If you have noticed someone’s attitude or behaviour is changing, bring it up.

“It may help them realise the mask they think they are hiding behind isn’t working and a lot more is visible.”

Mr Lawson has welcomed changing community attitudes, which are gradually removing the stigma around mental health.

“It’s happening more and more that people are saying ‘no’,” he said. “Talking about suicide prevention makes the community realise this is real.”

Clinical psychologist and senior lecturer at Charles Sturt University Gene Hodgins also believes listening is often the best way to start helping a loved one.

“It sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how many people want to ‘fix things’ instead of just listening,” he said.

“Ask open-ended questions like ‘can you tell me more about this?’ Show you are interested.

“Sometimes when a person is really struggling, they want validation that someone is willing to listen.”

Dr Hodgins said there were a number of telephone services which could assist people as a first step in finding help.

He said GPs and other health services could also provide assistance.

However, Dr Hodgins said there were times when this advice needed to be ignored and that was if a person was in an immediate crisis.

“In that case, skip the listening and get help straight away,” he said.

If you or anyone you know is seeking crisis support:

  • Suicide and Support Group on 1300 133 911
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 22 463