This year, September 10th is RUOK? Day in Australia. For all those who don’t know, it’s a movement that encourages people to start having conversations about mental health, which could really change peoples’ lives. Although the links between mental health and alcohol and other drugs consumption are complex*, we know that alcohol is a depressant and can cause anxiety and increase stress. Being a part of the Hello Sunday Morning community, chances are, you’ve already looked into your own relationship with alcohol. So how is this relevant? We’re often asked the following by our members and followers who have concerns about their loved ones:
‘How do we start a conversation about someone’s drinking habits, or check on their mental health?’
Starting a conversation about someone’s drinking or mental-health state can be intimidating. It’s a sensitive topic.
We need to prepare ourselves to be vulnerable in order for our loved ones to open up and do the same. One thing we need to remember is that change does not happen overnight. There is a possibility that our friends and families will shut down the conversation or pull away from us. The aim of the tips below is not to change their drinking today, but it’s about building up trust and letting them know you are there if they need someone to talk to. We have to remind ourselves that our role is to help them consider seeking help from someone better equipped to help them professionally.
Regardless of whether it’s drinking or mental health you want to check-in on, we’ve written the tips below that can help for either one.
So – how do we start a conversation?
- Start with a gentle approach
Whether it’s someone’s drinking or someone’s mental health, a practical way to start a conversation is by using the ‘I’ statement. Let them know about your own observation of their behaviour, and then let them know about your concern.
Avoid direct comments about their (drinking) behaviours. As an example, don’t use: ‘I noticed that you drink more than you should lately.’ or ‘I saw that your speech became slurred when you had more than 5 glasses of wine the other night’, but instead make the ‘I’ statement that shows your concern about their well-being. Such as:
‘I noticed that you look tired lately – I’m concerned about you.’; or ‘I haven’t seen you much lately at the groceries, I’m worried about you.’
Once you have made the statement and expressed your concern, gently ask a question about their well-being. It’s important for them to say it themselves rather than assuming they are not okay. Be ready to get defensive answers. Don’t take it personally if this happens. People often are vulnerable and afraid to share their feelings right in that moment. Allow them to be aware that you are there for them. You can respond by letting them know you will check-in again in a few days or so.
If you are unsure on how to ask questions, RUOK? has further tips on how to ask questions
So what happens when they do open up in a few days?
- Follow up and be ready to listen
Chances are, it will take a few conversations for someone to be open about what is going on personally. Remember that the aim is to gain their trust and this might not happen the next time you check-in with them, so following-up is important. Letting them know that you care is already a success in starting a conversation. Always look for a quiet and interruption-free space to have this conversation. You can offer a less intimidating way to catch up (such as going for a walk), as a face-to-face conversation can often be a pressuring situation for some people.
When they do eventually open up about their drinking or that they are not okay, we can be ready to listen. Listening involves us asking the right questions at the right time, pausing and letting them finish their story without interruptions, and also means being comfortable with awkward silence. Often people need time to be able to form the right words and sentences about what is going on with their life at the moment. When they do open up, we can offer validation to their feelings. Example: ‘I’m really sorry to hear what you’re going through’ or ‘It must be hard to go through this’ and ‘thank you for sharing this with me’.
- Referral (help them to consider supports)
Be mindful not to be quick to offer advice or solutions; by listening to their story more, we will be able to direct them to a professional helper who is better equipped to give support and counsel. The next step is to ask them how you can help them. Most people would say that it is enough for us to listen to them. You can let them know that there is support available out there and that they don’t have to do it alone. We have listed some helpful resources and a list of crisis-support resources at the end of the blog which you can familiarise yourself with.a
Lastly, the offer of help we can give to others is as good as how we look after ourselves. Knowing our limitations is important to determine how much help we can give others. Letting our loved ones know what our limitations are (that we are not trained to give advice) will prevent them from over-relying on us and setting up future disappointments. Learning to let go is also helpful for our own well-being. Write down thoughts or talk to someone you trust if you need a debrief.
This RUOK? Day is a great way to start a conversation, however we should continue to check-in with one another all year around. Especially during this COVID-19 challenging time that we face globally.
If you have further suggestions about how to care for someone, please let us know by commenting below.
For mental health support: RUOK?, Beyond Blue
For alcohol support and resources:
Australia – Reach Out, Alcohol Drug Information Service, (ADIS): 1800 250 015, Drinkwise, Alcoholics Anonymous: 1300 222 222 (24 hours/day, 7 days/week), ADF and Daybreak app by Hello Sunday Morning
UK – Drinkaware
NZ – Alcohol.org.nz, Innovate Change, Odyssey, CAYAD, Innovation Unit
And for Crisis support: If you or someone you know needs immediate help please contact your local health care provider, or for people in Australia, please call:
- Emergency 000
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
- MensLine 1300 78 99 78
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
Hello Sunday Morning would like to thank Uprise for the EAP program they offer to our staff. The tips above are adaptations of some helpful tips from Uprise as well as our existing resources at Hello Sunday Morning website.
2 CommentsAdd a comment
The father of my children suffered from severe depression and alcoholism. I tried to help him….got him to my GP for a referral to counselling. I think he went twice, then he didn’t do the “homework” she’d asked of him so he couldn’t face going back. Twelve months later, despite my attempts to help and support him in any way I could, he died at age 49 from a heart attack. I see him in the two beautiful children we had and thank him silently every day for their presence. The only good to come of this awful loss was I decided to set a better example for my kids and stop drinking. I have been sober six months.
This comment is incredibly moving and meaningful to me.