Why R U OK? isn’t enough
If I ask you, “Hey, how are you doing?” – what is your natural, automated response going to be?
“Fine”? “Yeah, alright”? “Not bad, yourself?”
I did it 20 minutes ago.
Today is R U OK? day, and simply asking it once is useless.
The music industry is in crisis. We have been devastated by the loss of so many of our own to suicide, overdose. We’re all still reeling from the death of Luke Liang, who passed away less than two weeks ago. This is not a new phenomenon, and something’s gotta give.
We have the tools at our disposal – Support Act’s Wellness Helpline, which has 24/7 professional counselling available – free up to six sessions – to anyone in the music industry. We have mental health workshops, fundraisers, sessions at conferences around the country dedicated to finding a solution to the rampant mental health issues facing our industry.
But the most accessible source of support we have available to us – each other – is wasted if it takes days like R U OK?, or another death, to bring us together.
Don’t just ask once. Don’t settle for “I’m fine.” Don’t give up the conversation so damn easily.
Lives depend on us starting to really mean what we’re asking so flippantly around the office or posting on Facebook today.
If someone is going to open up to you with their private, painful struggles, the simple fact that you checked in on them is not reassurance that you’re actually ready to listen and support them. Especially if you two are not normally intimate in conversation. Especially if talking about their personal life and feelings is uncomfortable for them (or you). Especially if they’re suffering from depression, anxiety, addiction.
At BIGSOUND’s Mental Wellness Workshop, run by Support Act and AccessEAP (who provide the counselling service for the helpline) we watched a role play which demonstrated the importance of asking twice, and being ready for the answer.
R U OK? x 2 – A Role Play
A ‘manager’ has noticed their ‘artist’ has been withdrawn, and not their usual selves. The manager has a private chat with them after rehearsal.
It takes multiple tries for the manager to get the artist to begin to open up, initially met with a flippant “yeah, i’m fine”.
Much of the slow process is driven by the manager’s observations, and the caring and concerned way in which they detail what they’d noticed and why that had them concerned.
By hearing how much the manager really wants to know the truth, and how much they’d picked up on, the artist feels understood and supported enough to take down their wall and tentatively start to share.
The manager listens. They prompt gently where needed. They don’t judge, diagnose, or tell the artist to get over it.
The manager suggests a call to the Support Act helpline, and that the artist chat to their family about what they’re going through to start building a network of support. Did they need the manager to come with them? Is it okay for the manager to talk to, or help the artist talk to one of their friends or bandmates?
One of the most important actions taken by the manager was to make a plan to catch up next week and get an update.
Not only does this hold the artist accountable to start making moves to get help; be that calling the helpline, chatting to family, seeing their GP – it is also a tangible action for the artist that shows how invested the manager is in their wellbeing.
One of the many, many reasons people experiencing mental health concerns don’t open up about their struggles easily is the fear that they are a burden on others.
It’s also a common fear that opening up and taking a break counteracts the image of success in the music industry – a toxic culture which expects workers to always be on top of their game, working the hardest, longest and latest. But that’s a burnout story for another day.
The first step in encouraging one another to open up is realising that it takes more than just asking a question and ticking a box. We really need to consider what we can do to create a safe and welcoming space, and convey how genuine we are about hearing what they have to say, and being there to support them.
The conversation doesn’t start with asking the question; it starts when they actually answer.
Support Act Wellbeing Helpline: 1800 959 500
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467