Rugby League legend, Joe Williams talks about ways to create a safe place for others to ask for help

When someone’s doing it tough, it can be pretty hard for them to ask for help. They might think that what they’re going through isn’t serious enough or that they’ll get into trouble for speaking up. Or they might even feel like a burden for telling someone what’s going on with them.

Got a feeling that someone you know is struggling? One of the best things you can do is follow your gut, check in with the person and have a good yarn with them. It sounds simple, but it can make a huge difference.

Getting there takes trust and understanding. But it’s also about picking up on the signs, which will make it easier for you to get the conversation started and open up a safe space for sharing.

How Joe recognised the signs in Justin

Read the transcript.

Former Rugby League legend, national boxing champion and mental health advocate Joe Williams saw some tell-tale signs that something wasn’t quite right with one of his players, Justin.

In the video, we see Joe sit down with Justin to chat about mental health and about how he recognised that Justin seemed out of sorts.

‘I saw that you weren’t talking to the group, you were keeping to yourself, you were staying quiet,’ Joe says. ‘You just looked sad, you looked down. So, I reached out to you.

There are all kinds of signs that someone might not be okay. And it can look different for everyone. For Joe, he saw how Justin was withdrawing from his teammates, looking sad and down, and keeping to himself a lot. But you might pick up on some other signs, too. For example:

  • Do they seem confused or irrational?

  • Do they seem lonely or lacking in self-esteem?

  • Are they having mood swings?

  • Have they been behaving recklessly?

  • Are they less keen on the things they love doing?

  • Are they going through some relationship issues?

  • Is work stressing them out heaps?

  • Are they dealing with money stress?

  • Have they recently lost someone they care about?

By recognising the signs in what they’re saying and doing, or what might be going on in their life, chances are you’ll feel more confident about taking that next step and reaching out to them.

Sharing and reaching out

Having been through his own fair share of difficulties, Joe was able to see that Justin needed a mate to support him.

By sharing his story, Joe was able to comfort Justin and to show him that even though things can get tough sometimes, there’s always someone to chat to and always a way forward.

‘You made it easier for me … [You] told us your story … It made me feel comfortable,’ Justin says to Joe.

Facing this stuff alone can feel pretty lonely and overwhelming. But it can be helpful to know that we all go through hard times and have battles to overcome. Just knowing there are people around us who can relate makes it a bit easier to have a yarn and reach out for help. Like Justin puts it, ‘It’s okay to ask other people for help.’

Joe adds:

When we talk about sharing, it's as important that we share our tough times as well, because the only way to get out of the tough times is by sharing, and that's culturally what we've always done.

And it’s true. First Nations people have always shared stories with each other. It’s something that can provide the unity and strength to cope with whatever’s happening in life.

Creating a safe environment to share

Creating that space for someone to open up might seem tricky, but there are things you can do to make it feel safe for them.

As Joe says, ‘When we’re having these tough times, we don’t want to talk about them. But if we try and make the space as safe as possible, it’s going to make it a little easier to have that conversation.’

Like Joe did with Justin, a good starting place is being open and vulnerable yourself. If you’re cool with letting your guard down, you could take the lead by sharing your own story of going through a tough time or a challenge that you’ve coped with. This can help the person to feel more comfortable talking about themselves.

Of course, you might not be able to relate to exactly what they’re going through – and that’s totally okay. You can still create a safe space and have a good yarn just by asking and listening. For tips on how to do this, you could check out R U OK?’s Stronger Together resources, which includes a handy conversation guide to help you ask mob, in your way, if they’re okay.

Don’t feel like you have the answers or any useful advice? That’s all good, too. Just remember that it can often be enough just to acknowledge what they’re feeling, listen to what they’re saying and check in on them.

Getting some extra support

Sometimes just reaching out and asking how somebody is going will make a world of difference to them. But you might find that the situation needs some extra support – not just for the person you’re worried about, but for you, too. Here are some useful resources to check out:

  • 13 YARN (13 92 76) is a national helpline for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people who are going through a tough time and feel like having a yarn.

  • Yarning space on ReachOut’s Online Community is a culturally safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people to yarn about worries, share experiences, and learn from and support each other.

  • ReachOut’s guide to support services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people includes a range of services where you can chat with people who understand what you’re talking about.

  • R U OK? is a not-for-profit suicide prevention organisation that advocates for starting important mental health conversations with others. You could check out their Stronger Together kit, which is all about asking mob, in your way, if they’re okay.

  • Lifeline (13 11 14) is a 24-hour crisis support service available for Australians.

  • Beyond Blue provides support programs about issues such as depression, suicide and anxiety.

What can I do now?

  • Check out our Yarn Up collection for more articles and videos from young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

  • Check out our article on how to ask a friend if they’re okay.

  • Hear from other Australians on the importance of talking openly about suicide.


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