ReachOut Schools uses cookies to give you the best experience. Find out more about cookies and your privacy in our policy.

When young people do seek help, it is most typically from informal sources such as friends and family rather than professional sources. Read our advice on starting a conversation about youth mental health.

This will help you to:

  • start a conversation about mental health and mental illness
  • support young people to talk about mental health
  • explore ways to reduce stigma about mental illness.
Counsellor in blue shirt talking to boy on metal bench

Why we need to reduce stigma about mental illness

In their report, Young Australians: their health and wellbeing 2007, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that 93% of young people aged 18-24 rated their health as "excellent", "very good", or "good".

Yet in the same report it was noted that psychological distress was increasing amongst the same population group. It reports that just over 25% of people aged 18-24 have been diagnosed with a mental disorder. This is concerning but also demonstrates that mental health problems are not seen or considered in the same way as a physical health problem. This evidence suggests that for many Australians, mental health is not seen as a component of overall health.

There is still a belief amongst some in the community that mental illnesses, and depression and anxiety in particular, are just a sign of weakness. A far too common response to a young person experiencing depression is that they are "attention-seeking" and "should just toughen up and get over it!".

Until the broader community has a better understanding of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders, there will always be stigma attached to mental illness.

The key to reducing the stigma attached to mental illness is education. If we can raise awareness amongst all Australians of the nature of mental health disorders (by increasing awareness of the symptoms, causes and treatments of mental illnesses and by promoting the experiences of people whose lives have been affected by mental illness) we will go a long way to reducing negative perceptions of mental illness.

Asking someone are they OK?

Almost all of us have had times when a friend has been down or has been going through a tough time.

Some people are great at letting people know how they're going; they know when to speak with a friend, family member or counsellor to get support if they're going through a tough time and don't see talking about their problems as a weakness.

However, many people don't talk about their difficulties or seek support when they really need it. This might be for a number of reasons, including not knowing who they can talk to, or being worried about what people will think if they do open up.

The thing is, if someone is going through a really tough time, it can be a massive relief to be given permission to say 'I'm not OK' and to be given an easy opportunity to ask for help.

The R U OK? Day team, in conjunction with Lifeline, have developed these Five Top Tips to assist you to connect with other people and to have a conversation that asks them "Are you OK?".

Tip 1. Be receptive

  • Take the lead, show initiative and ask: "Are you OK?".
  • Put the invitation out there: "I've got time to talk".
  • Maintain eye contact and sit in a relaxed position - positive body language will help you both feel more comfortable.
  • Often just spending time with the person lets them know you care and can help you understand what they're going through.

Tip 2. Use ice breakers to initiate a conversation

Use open-ended questions such as "So tell me about...?", which require more than a "yes" or "no" answer.

You may also like to use the following questions to start a conversation:

  • "You know, I've noticed that you've seemed really down/worried/stressed for a long time now. Is there anyone you've been able to talk to about it?".
  • "Lots of people go through this sort of thing. Getting help will make it easier".
  • "I hate to see you struggling on your own. There are people that can help. Have you thought of visiting your doctor?".

Tip 3. Practice your listening skills

  • Listen to what a person is saying. Be open-minded and non-judgemental - sometimes, when someone wants to talk, they're not always seeking advice, but they just need to talk about their concerns.
  • Be patient - let the person take their time.
  • Avoid telling someone what to do. it is important to listen and try to help the other person work out what is best for them.

Tip 4. Be encouraging

  • Encourage physical health. Maintaining regular exercise, a nutritious diet and getting regular sleep helps to cope in tough times.
  • Encourage the person to seek professional help from their family doctor, a support service or counsellor, or a mental health worker.
  • Encourage self-care. Sometimes people need to be encouraged to do more to look after their own needs during a difficult time.

Tip 5. Be helpful

What not to do when trying to help someone. It is unhelpful to:

  • Pressure them to "snap out of it", "get their act together" or "cheer up".
  • Stay away or avoid them.
  • Tell them they just need to stay busy or get out more.
  • Suggest alcohol or drugs.
  • Assume the problem will just go away.

Check out the R U OK? Day website to find a great video about asking someone if they are OK. In the video, Lindy Macgregor explains the signs that show someone you know may not be coping, and talks about 'suicide first aid'. This handy video is approx 8 mins in duration.

Is there someone you think might be going through a tough time?

What could you say to them to start a conversation and support them to get the help they need to get through this tough time?

Find out more