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'How are you, out of 10?' is the question to ask this R U OK? Day

Going deeper than surface-level etiquette can be the difference between disclosure and suffering in silence, writes Wellness Daily journalist Jerome Doraisamy.

Until about five years ago, I was very shy and reserved. As such, if my mother ever wanted to know if I was seeing anyone, she wouldn't ask, "How's your love life?" Instead, she'd ask, "When's the last time you had sex?" 

Prima facie, it sounds mortifying. But it's an approach I've always been grateful for, because Mum frames her questions in ways that demand an answer, rather than giving me wiggle room to waffle. Given her bluntness, our relationship is much more open than it may otherwise be.

Earlier this year, I learned of a way such direct inquisition could operate in the context of a wellbeing discussion. I was chatting with Graeme Haas, a lecturer at the College of Law in Queensland, and he noted that instead of asking, "How are you?" he asks his mates, "How are you out of 10?" 

By doing so, he explained, he has a better chance of extracting information relevant to one's holistic wellness… if his mate was to respond that he was – in that moment – 6/10, it would give Graeme an opening to ask why, and if there were particular issues preventing his mate from ranking his state higher, such as work stress or personal conflict.

Further, it provides the respondent a chance to subsequently reflect on why they may have scored themselves in the way they did, and what needs to be addressed on a personal level to improve that score. 

"How are you?" by contrast, may conceive a more binary response lacking in nuance whereby one is either well or not, and has the scope to deflect a more thorough inquisition. 

Given the well-established tendencies of professional services workers towards competitiveness, perfectionism, pessimism and broader cultural traits including hyper-masculinity and the ever-Australian "she'll be right, mate", it's worth considering whether this more inquisitive attitude should be adopted across the profession. 

I want to be clear: I am a huge fan of R U OK? Day. I think national awareness of and promotion for this all-important question is fundamental to the evolution of our sociocultural attitudes towards psychological distress, anxiety, depression and suicide ideation, and even surface-level championing of a stigma-free society can cultivate incremental, if not substantial, change. 

But recognition of and accommodation for idiosyncrasies within our professional industries are crucial if, on an individual level, we are able to effect meaningful, positive change with those around us. In other words: our unique professional setting can demand an approach whereby we intend to delve further to extract information that may ultimately make a difference. 

R U OK? Day prescribes four key steps to help save lives: ask, listen, encourage action and check in. Incorporation of the scale out of 10 can seep into all four steps. 

As professional services workers, we – statistically speaking – appreciate practicality and certainty. And while we have come a long way in reducing community and workplace stigma around such mental ailment, we still have a way to go. By framing our questions of friends, peers and subordinates more directly, we can, I believe, increase the likelihood of engaged, productive discourse. 

Today is R U OK? Day 2018. I will be asking my family, friends and colleagues – inside the law and outside of it – how they are on a scale of 1 to 10. For those I call, text or approach face-to-face, this approach may be just what they need to comfortably espouse what they're thinking and feeling. Just as such directness helped my shy, reserved former self. 

Jerome Doraisamy is a journalist at Wellness Daily, and its sister title, Lawyers Weekly.

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain