This post discusses suicide, mental health issues, depression and miscarriages and may be triggering for some readers.
If you’re not aware, today is “R U OK?” day in Australia. The national day of action is run by a non-profit suicide prevention organisation that encourages people to ask their friends, family members and colleagues to have open conversations about mental health and ask each other if they’re okay.
While the origins of “R U OK?” day may have been well-intended, it has divided Australians on how beneficial it actually is to those struggling with mental health issues — especially in the workplace.
Reddit user u/boil-the-kettlebell touched on this in a thread titled “Is anyone else absolutely dreading ‘R U OK?’ day at work tomorrow?”
This led to an insightful discussion from Australians about their experiences with employers doing the bare minimum on “R U OK?” day and what they, as employees, would actually find helpful.
“If ‘R U OK?’ day morphed into a forced company wide mental health day, THEN maybe I’d say it reaches beyond the vapid marketing.”
“I’m not even in Australia (Japan) and I just received an a email about ‘R U OK?’ day 30 minutes ago. First I’ve heard of it, but it’s clearly expanding beyond whatever it started as. As other people have also said, I have zero intention of declaring I’m anything less than okay to anyone above me at work.”
“[I’m] a manager and going through some heavy stuff at work and home. Tomorrow [on ‘R U OK?’ day], I will suck it up, but I would desperately prefer a mental health day. I will be placing zero pressure on staff because it’s just a day and in my experience those struggling find it confronting to have the question thrown around; it’s more important to build trust so they know they can come to you the other 364 days of the year.”
“I’m a manager and I wholeheartedly support this idea! I think all of my team need a day off instead of this bullshit!”
“Best way to support your employees’ mental health is to give them a free day off work.”
“Ironically, I’ll miss this year’s corporate wank mental health day because my work actually managed to not only ignore my asking for help, but then tried performance managing me because I fell in a heap after months of them ignoring me. Mental health isn’t a one day of the year thing. Don’t carry it alone and reach out for help. There are some amazing people out there who do care and want to help you.”
“Got performance managed because I missed a KPI (I 100% admit it was my fault and also admitted to HR). Then, after the official meeting and receiving the ‘letter’ there was a bunch of shit in there that I didn’t even say. It took three more iterations before it was even closely accurate to the conversation that took place. They knew I was struggling and just tried to set me up to fail even more. HR say they are working for the employees — fuck that!”
“You gotta love a whole day to remind yourself that you feel like shit.”
“I’m considering calling in sick. I’ve had my own mental health challenges this year. I’m getting better but not entirely okay — I have a team around me though so I will be. Just let me work, so I feel capable for a minute in the meantime without reminding me of all my mental deficiencies.”
“I am never sharing my vulnerabilities at work. You never know how they will take advantage of it.”
“Agreed. I’ve dealt with depressive episodes since I was 14 (30 now), and in all that time through numerous workplaces in different roles and industries, I’ve only disclosed anything to a single trusted colleague. Even that felt weird and a bit risky. I wish it were different, but you can never be certain how people will react, and I’m not keen on potentially jeopardising my job for the sake of being honest.”
“No, I’m not okay and as somebody said above, there is nothing one day can do about it. It should be common thought, not a special day. If a person wants to help and support someone else, they will do it. If you don’t want help or to be helped, ‘R U OK?’ day won’t change it (there are exceptions). We just need to be nice to each other.”
“Can’t even do it with most people or a partner. Friends don’t like knowing you have mental illness like depression or anxiety, it turns many people off for dating. Men, especially, get hit hard as we are expected to be stoic. Friends leave if you don’t get better in under six months. People hate mental illness.”
“Yep, we just suffered a pregnancy loss, ‘So nah, I’m not okay, but thanks for asking. Welp, I better get back to work’.”
“Yeah, I work on a team that’s 99% old traditional men (I will often be in leadership meetings with 30+ people where I’m the only woman) and there’s no way I’d ever let them know the true stuff I deal with. They certainly don’t share their own issues. It’s hard enough getting their respect as a peer and leader as it is. Them thinking I have some inherent problem that justifies why they don’t need to come to me for certain projects is just not something I want to add to the pile of complexity I already deal with.”
“I was thinking about this the other day — what happens if the answer is ‘no’? Does asking people on one day a year do much? What if the other person says ‘she’ll be right!’ I just think there needs to be a better way for this.”
“After I attempted suicide, my production manager (not even the boss of the whole company, just my higher up) took it upon himself to come into the hospital to berate me for not being at work and for not being able to return to work. This was a few years ago, but an ex-coworker posted a photo on Facebook about how that same guy is making the entire workplace wear ‘R U OK?’ day shirts. I tell you, there’s a special place in hell for that fucker. I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire.”
“I haven’t been able to hold down a job since, I don’t trust people I work with and I get burnt out immediately. The lack of support from an employer I dedicated years to broke me — and I’m still broken. ‘R U OK?’ day is a joke. Fuck you, Matt.”
“At my work, it’s ‘U R OK’ day. Here’s a free lunch, now shut up and get back to work. And you’ll need to hurry the fuck up ’cause, you’re running 45 minutes late due to this unscheduled break.”
“It’s bullshit really. I have used all my long service leave to aid my mental health. I have told people verbally and in emails that my mental health is not good and I need time off. It has always been given, which is great, but there has never been any follow up . No senior person has ever asked how I am doing. We get constant emails espousing work’s awareness of mental health, but no one ever gets asked directly how, as an employer, they can help. There is a barbecue tomorrow for ‘R U OK?’ day [and I’m sure] something nice will be in the newsletter.”
“It’s sort of lip service to actually caring. It’s a nice idea and it apparently does help some folks, but I have answered ‘no I’m not’ and still no one cared. Lucky, I have moved on from that place literally and figuratively.”
“Nothing says ‘This is wank’ more than people asking and then ignoring a negative response. I do agree that it can help, though. It’s probably better than nothing.”
“Of course it can help when asked genuinely by someone who cares about both you and what your answer is to that question. It is very unlikely that it WILL help, when you’re asking it as part of your KPIs and because it’s your team’s turn to provide the fucking cupcakes this year.”
“I hate it. A few years back at a government department (around 800 people) I worked at had an announcement over the PA asking ‘R U OK?’ over and over. Then, they played ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams. Absolutely awful.”
“Last year, my organisation held a management-run Zoom meeting for ‘R U OK?’ day. The person that said ‘no, they weren’t okay’ got muted and kicked out.”
“I’m dreading the sea of corporate yellow. Mentally ill people don’t want Kit-Kats, cupcakes or internal staff emails saying ‘we support you.’ We want understanding, more work flexibility and more WFH days. We want management to be open to a four day working week so we can actually see a psychiatrist and treat our illness properly. We want more than one day a year. Businesses and managers only support mental health when it’s convenient for them.”
“In a prior life, I’ve had someone ask me in the office and I’ve flatly responded “Actually, I was thinking of ending my own life” and they said “Good to hear!” and walked away. If you’re not going to listen, don’t ask. If you are going to listen, still don’t ask because you don’t care the other 364 days of the year. So long as it’s not affecting my work performance, it’s not something you need to be concerned with.”
“As someone with various mental fuckery, I hate it. Everyone sarcastically asking ‘R U OK?!’ makes me want to turn around and actually answer ‘Well, shit, the suicidal ideation has been flaring up, but I haven’t taken the straight razor to myself in several months so I’m not bad.’ Fuck outta my face with your bullshit lack of care.”
“I opted out. Work is not my support group, I am not work’s support group. It’s a bullshit idea that ticks boxes and makes executives happy. My workplace assigned everyone an R U OK buddy randomly and you’re supposed to talk to them on ‘R U OK?’ day and get a coffee or something. What’s some chucklefuck from accounting going to do when they say ‘R U OK?’ to me and I’m like ‘Nah, I’m doing awful (I’m fine) and I’m struggling (I’m not)’? Because they’re gonna say ‘Here’s your fucken’ coffee, see ya tomorrow.’ You know what I’m doing instead? I’m going to talk to my friends and my family — my actual support groups, who I love and care about, and who love and care about me.”
“Honestly I loathe ‘R U OK?’ day with every fibre of my being. No, I am not okay. No, I have never been okay. No, it is none of your goddamn business. Even if I DO answer ‘no’, what the fuck are you gonna do? You’ve just caused a horribly awkward situation that does nothing but further encourage those people who aren’t doing okay to continue to lie about it, and potentially expose a bunch of already ‘not okay’ people to the stigma and judgement that exists around mental illness while doing shit all to address that stigma.”
“It does shit-all for the people who aren’t okay. At worst, it encourages a binary ‘okay or not okay’ thinking about mental health and further fuels the stigma it claims to push against. At its best, it encourages people who aren’t equipped to handle a very delicate and fraught topic to approach the subject with all the subtlety of a bulldozer. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.”
And lastly, “As a mental health first aid person, I find ‘R U OK?’ day and morning tea, whilst usually well-intentioned, is often more than a little cringe-worthy. I agree with those who have said to take a mental health day off work if that’s what you feel that you need. Also, perhaps take the opportunity to speak to someone professional about why you don’t feel okay.”
What are your thoughts on “R U OK?” day? Do you find it beneficial or would you rather your employers did more to recognise mental health?
If you or someone you know is in need of support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36 or MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78.