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Make RUOK DAY every day – not just September 8

Updated: Jan 31

Last year, when Sydney was in lockdown, I spoke to RUOK Day’s Aya Larkin about the challenges that isolation poses for people’s mental health. A year later, we’re out of lockdown but for many, we’re not out of the woods when it comes to feeling isolated. A conversation can save a life. Start with the question RUOK?

For more than a decade, RUOK Day has been encouraging questions that change lives, and with half of all Australians in prolonged lockdown, the suicide prevention group says it’s more important than ever to check in with your work mates.

This time last year, I spoke to RUOK’s Aya Larkin about how to have life-saving conversations, as well as fun ways to boost your team’s spirit even when you’re apart.

Aya’s brother, Gavin Larkin started RUOK in 2009 in response to their father’s suicide when they were growing up. Gavin lost his own battle with cancer in 2011 but his legacy to save lives is going strong.

“Gavin always said, ‘a conversation can stop small problems becoming big ones,’ Aya said, via zoom from the hotel he manages in Bondi, which is now closed.  

Aya is a musician as well as hotelier. With both his industries wiped out by lockdowns, he’s seen first-hand the toll that job losses and isolation are having on people’s mental health.

“Anecdotally, there’s a huge unreported epidemic of general disorientation… I think a lot of people are struggling,” says Larkin.

“Being engaged in a daily practice of work …and belonging to a group… regardless of what you’re making or how you’re serving … fulfils a basic human need. Without that, it starts to bite.”

During Sydney’s lockdown Aya made it a priority to maintain regular weekly contact with his full-time and casual staff members, who are waiting it out at home.

He doubled his efforts to reach out, “if anyone starts to retract and go quiet”.

Unfortunately, many people claim they don’t have the confidence to ask a colleague personal questions, which is why RUOK has developed some simple and effective conversation steps to:

  1. look for signs that someone might be struggling;

  2. ask RUOK? to gauge how they’re faring;

  3. listen openly, without judgement or trying to fix things;

  4. encourage them to take positive action;

  5. check in a few days later with a followup chat.

You’ll find useful resources, videos and advice on how to be an RUOK workplace champion here.

But not all conversations need to be heavy.  Aya’s staff regularly enjoy Friday online quiz nights and order food and wine from the same restaurant for a shared experience.

 Workplaces can create fun virtual team activities with games and competitions such as Kahoot, Scribble, Quiplash and Fibbage.

According to Aya, it doesn’t matter what the activity is, the important thing is to stay connected.  

“I would also encourage anyone who is leading a team to have one-on-one meetings. Everyone should have responsibility to check in on a few people in an honest and meaningful way,” Aya said.

And finally let’s remember the RUOK way is not just for September 8, it’s for every day.

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