Why RUOK? Day Doesn’t Work
How to Help Those With High Functioning Depression
Did you participate in RUOK? Day this year? Did you have someone in particular you wanted to check on? Someone who you’d been wondering if things weren’t peachy with for a while but you’d been too shy to inquire?
I noticed a lot of action on social media. People posting a generalised shout out, or the RUOK? Logo. But did you actually ask someone face to face?
RUOK? Day is a fantastic innovation from Australian Gavin Larkin. After his father’s suicide, Gavin wanted to ask people just one question, and get others asking it too. Are you okay? He wanted people to talk about mental health more, change their behaviour towards it, and raise awareness.
What started out as a documentary soon became something far more, and soon RUOK? Day was born. It is now something most Australians have heard of or actively participate in once a year on September the 14th, and it has changed countless lives, which is AMAZING! And it is starting to be picked up by other countries too.
But there’s one thing RUOK? Day doesn’t do. It doesn’t help the people like me who didn’t know they had depression, or were too embarrassed to say anything other than “I’m fine thanks”, if they had been asked. Which I never was, because I was excellent at hiding my overwhelming sadness and irritability when I was around other people.
RUOK? Day has achieved so much! It’s pushed mental health into the forefront of people’s minds, helped eased the stigma surrounding it, and gotten people talking. But people are missing the point. Gavin didn’t want you to take a back seat on this. He didn’t want you to change your profile pic, post a general question on Facebook, or hang a sign. He wanted people to actually connect! To talk to each other. To find out what was happening in their lives. Their whole life, not just the magic moments captured on Instagram.
Because most people won’t admit to being less than okay. Most of us are too shy, scared, or embarrassed to admit there’s a problem even to ourselves, let alone other people! Which brings me to my next question. Could you spot someone suffering from a mood disorder? And would you know how to help?
I wrote my latest book Choosing Happy because I struggled with low mood for years before I discovered I wasn’t just, over-tired, sick, or a horrible person. There was actually something else going on. But looking back now I see so many warning signs.
· I had withdrawn (even more) socially
· Nothing I did gave me any enjoyment
· I couldn’t seem to shake my feelings of sadness, even when I was doing things I loved
· I was cranky and irritable all the time
· I was physically exhausted, and unmotivated to do anything
· I felt like I was walking through life in a fog
· I was incredibly critical of others and myself- even my successes, and I was constantly striving to be better. Do better. Prove myself.
I never knew that these are symptoms of depression.
I assumed to be depressed you had to spend most of your day shut in your room crying. In the foetal position of course! Which sounds ridiculous. But this is often how depression is portrayed. And while this is true for some forms of depression, it’s certainly doesn’t define them all!
And that’s what I want to highlight today. Things like high functioning depression and dysthymia are incredibly hard to pick up because outwardly people are thriving. And these are the people that slip through the cracks on RUOK? Day because you can’t tell anything’s wrong. Often sufferers haven’t even acknowledged it themselves! They normally have a good career, are on the PTA, bake cookies for charity, and participate in marathons. But they struggle with symptoms like:
· Internalized pressure to be perfect
· Feeling like a complete failure no matter what you achieve
· Insomnia or hypersomnia
· Low self-esteem
· Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
· Feelings of hopelessness
· Poor appetite or overeating
· Difficulty experiencing joy
· Relentless criticism of themselves and others
· Constant self-doubt
· Diminished energy
· Irritability or excessive anger
· Small things feel like huge things
· Feelings of guilt and worry over the past and future
· Generalized sadness
· Seeking perfection
· Inability to rest and slow down
· Relying on your coping strategies more and more
The problem is, because people with high functioning depression, low mood, or dysthymia are so good at holding it together, it’s hard for them and others to spot an issue. They fly under the radar. And this can be far more dangerous than clinical depression because they never get any help. They just keep on keeping on, until one day they crack.
So here’s what I want you to do. I want you take initiative. I want you to do more than just post on social media. I want you to pay attention to those around you. To your friends, family, and neighbours. And I want you to change their lives.
Connecting with people, even if it’s just saying hi over the fence, can make a massive difference in people’s lives. Even if they don’t have depression or low mood, even if they’re just having a bad day. You may never know how much your interaction has helped, but you can guarantee it will never be wasted!
Here’s some things you can do to reach out to those around you.
· Send a text message letting them know you’re thinking of them.
· Make time for a coffee and a chat, no matter how ‘busy’ you are.
· Pick some flowers for them, or buy a bunch.
· Offer to mind their children while they take an hour for themselves. This is incredibly helpful!
· Write a letter or a little card. The added bonus is they can keep and re-read these when they’re feeling low.
· Turn up at their house with a DVD and popcorn if they don’t feel like going out.
· Stop by to say hi, even if it’s only for 5 minutes!
· Tell them they’re doing a great job, or offer to help them with a task if you can see they’re struggling.
· Pay them a compliment. So often we think things but don’t say them! Get it out of your head and tell them their hair looks great, they’re looking fit, you love their smile.
· Make them a happiness board using a corkboard, photos, postcards, sayings and other odds and ends that you know are special to them or will make them smile.
· Be willing to talk with people about their mental health. It shouldn’t be just an RUOK? Comment in your profile. Ask them. Are you okay? You’ve seemed a bit distant, sad, angry lately. What can I do to help?
Remember that not everyone will admit there’s anything wrong, and you may be shot down, which can hurt when you’re trying to help. The best thing you can do in this situation is to just be there for them in any way you can.