How to tell if you R OK?

Author
Professor Nick Titov
Date
12 September 2018

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When does the stress of normal life or sadness cross the line into something more serious and how do you know when to get professional help?

RU OK? is an important question, and though it can be difficult to ask friends, family or colleagues, there is excellent advice available on how to start a conversation today and every day. But, how do you know if you are OK?

Professor Nick Titov says if you are feeling low for more than two weeks you may need to seek help.

No more than a fortnight: Professor Nick Titov says if sad feelings are getting in the way of doing normal activities for more than two weeks you should act.

Normal life stresses vs curveballs

Most of us have busy lives. Many of us work or study long hours, have commitments to family and friends, are dealing with our own or a loved one's health problems, and might be struggling to manage household budgets or even to find a place to live.

Against that baseline, life throws curveballs. We call these transitions or life phases. They involve a change, such as getting married, having kids, changing jobs, experiencing illness, or the death of a loved one, and are all obvious triggers for stress.

But, there might not be any obvious reason for feeling low or stressed. We just don’t feel OK.

At those times, we notice changes in how we think, feel, and in what we do. We feel overwhelmed, we don't enjoy the things we usually do, we feel sad or irritable and avoid certain people or places. We struggle to get out of bed, feel low and flat and feel that we can’t cope with things the way we usually would. And, we think things will get better.

Crossing the line

Although they aren't pleasant, many of those feelings are normal, and most of the time, they disappear after a few days. But, when does the stress of normal life or sadness cross the line into something more serious, and what can you do?

Psychiatric diagnostic systems state that symptoms that last more than two weeks and stop you getting your usual things done, indicate a problem. Put simply, if those feelings aren't going away and are becoming entrenched, then you need to act.

The good news is that there is lots we can do. Conversely, doing the same thing you have been doing won't help and chances are, you will feel worse over time.

Building resilience: regularly doing things we enjoy and living according to our values contribute positively to good mental health.

Free help is available

A starting point for recovery is to understand your baseline. You can start with simple anxiety or depression quizzes, which provide helpful recommendations, available from our website (www.mindspot.org.au), beyondblue (www.beyondblue.org.au), and RU OK (www.ruok.org.au).

Those sites include lots of free and practical information and handouts about how you can help yourself. A key message is that it’s the basic things that help us stay resilient. Regularly doing things we enjoy and believe in, having regular and good social support, having good daytime and bedtime routines, eating regular meals, living by our values and beliefs and keeping things in perspective.

But, if you recognise that you can't do it yourself and need more support, you should consider treatment. You can do this online or on the telephone at places like MindSpot (which is free) or you can visit a GP to get a referral to a mental health professional if you prefer to see someone face-to-face.

Good psychological treatments teach you practical skills you can use each day, increase your insight, and help you become more resilient. These treatments work, but many people struggle to start for fear of failure, a belief that they are unworthy or other reasons that are due to the symptoms.

Exercise your choice to be the mentally healthy person you can be. Change is challenging, but with the right information, treatment, and support, you can get back to being OK - or better!

For help on how to ask friends, family or colleagus R U OK? Go to  ruok.org.au for excellent support material for how, when and what to ask.

Psychology Professor Nick Titov is the Director of MindSpot, a Macquarie-supported free, online and telephone service for adults troubled by symptoms of anxiety or depression.

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