Wellness - individual

RUOK: Which is harder – To Ask or Be Asked?

Foreword by Shahina Braganza 

During events around RUOK day 2020, WRaPEM founder Úna Harrington contemplated the idea and intention behind RUOK? She pondered the experience of being on the receiving end of the question, and wondered whether the confidence we have developed in asking RUOK is as yet matched by the confidence we have in answering it.  

WRaPEM’s call to action for RUOK? 2021 is for workplaces to consider how they might create the safety needed to foster these meaningful exchanges. 

Over to you Úna …. 

RUOK: Which is harder – To Ask or be Asked? That is the question. 

Which is harder – to ask a colleague ‘RUOK’ or to be the one who is asked ‘RUOK’?   

In 2020, I asked a diverse group of medical students, trainees and FACEMs this question. The responses were interesting at that time, and have brought more questions than answers to my doorstep in the months since.   

The overwhelming majority of medical students and doctors I asked said this: it’s much harder to be asked RUOK? 

Why would asking someone else if they are OK be easier than being asked that question ourselves? It makes me ponder:  

We have come so to now be comfortable with asking colleagues if they are okay and helping them through their troubles.  Is this a marker of just how much we have progressed in our openness withmental health issues in healthcare?  

Or is there something else going on here? And is that ‘something else’ the fact that we ask because responding to the question of ‘RUOK’ is actually very difficult? 

While the stigma in asking ROUK has decreased, has the stigma of answering ‘I’m not okay’ persisted? Is answering honestly now the most difficult part of the RUOK conversation?   

Or could the increased openness and persistent stigma sit side by side?   

As a medical educator, I have asked myself this question: Will I facilitate a different kind of session this year on RUOK day? Not one focused on how and when to ask the question RUOK?, but perhaps a session on how to achieve a sense of safety for those answering the question RUOK? – for our colleagues and ourselves.  

How can we help empower and enable our people (staff and students alike) to answer honestly, with less self-judgement, and less fear of judgement by others?   

And, importantly, what can we all do in the next month to promote an environment where our colleagues feel safe enough to answer the question honestly? 

 About Una Harrington


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