Today, we acknowledge the power in a simple three-word question, “Are you OK?”
And as R U OK? Day kicks off with its recognisable yellow speech bubble encouraging us to take an interest in the lives of people around us, I’d like to speak to one specific group of people who are vulnerable to mental illness too. Sadly, however, their grief is rarely acknowledged.
Women who have had an abortion experience an 81 per cent increased risk of mental health problems, reliable research reveals*. Of those incidences of mental health problems, 10 per cent were directly attributable to abortion. Another comprehensive study* of 400 international studies into the psychological risks associated with abortion concluded that up to 20% of women who had an abortion suffered from serious, prolonged, negative consequences.
Post-abortive women need to hear that question, R U OK? They need to experience the loving attention of someone who can listen and support, or point them in the direction of someone who can.
The simplicity of the R U OK? question is explained on the organisation’s website as being undergirded by research by “some of the world’s smartest people”. United States academic, Dr Thomas Joiner, for example, whose father took his own life. He subsequently dedicated his life and research* to discovering why.
“His theory tries to answer that complex question by describing three forces at play in someone at risk. The first force is the person thinks they’re a burden on others; the second is that they can withstand a high degree of pain; and the third is they don’t feel connected to others.”
Burden. Pain. Disconnectedness. Three things that can lead a person to a dark place. However, R U OK? and other such organisations acknowledge that the latter can nullify the former. That is, connectedness can lead a person to understand that they are not a burden on others, and that they can find hope and light out of current painful circumstances.
To the woman who is suffering after an abortion, you are not a burden. Your pain is legitimate and there is hope and healing beyond where you’re at now. There are people who can help you precisely where you’re at.
Click here to find a service near you.
Early intervention is key. We hear it over and over. But are we prepared to step up to a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and ask, R U OK?
To the woman who is feeling trapped having just discovered she is pregnant, you are not a burden. Your unborn baby is not a burden either, you will learn to see. Your struggle is real, and no one knows exactly just how difficult things are for you now, with your unique set of circumstances. But there is hope for you and your baby, there is a way forward and there are people willing to walk this journey with you.
Click here to find information and help.
But how do you talk to someone in such a complex situation, someone who you potentially can’t relate to one iota? Actually, it’s so much easier than you might think. R U OK? gives some super useful steps to help you ask that question. Here they are:
- ASK. Choose your moment and setting carefully, and make sure you’re in the right headspace too.
- LISTEN. Silence is ok. Allow space for them to sort through their words and feelings. Don’t rush them. Encourage them and affirm them, no judgement.
- ENCOURAGE ACTION. Ask them how you can support them. Offer to help in any way possible. If you feel out of your depth, offer to help them find professional support.
- CHECK IN. Follow up on your conversation. After few days or a week (depending on the circumstances), make contact again to check how they are travelling, and if there are any new ways you can offer support. Genuine care makes all the difference.
We’re thankful for the reminder to keep our eyes open to people who need connection and support. Let’s not forget those on either side of the life-altering decision to abort their baby.
- Dr Priscilla Coleman, Abortion and mental health: quantitative synthesis and analysis of research published 1995-2009. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2011, http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/199/3/180; see also, The World Expert Consortium for Abortion Research and Education, WECARE, www.wecareexperts.org.
- Women Who Suffered Emotionally From Abortion: A Qualitative Synthesis of Their Experiences, Priscilla K Coleman, Kaitlyn Boswell, Katrina Etzkorn and Rachel Turnweld, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Vol 22, Number 4, Winter 2017 www.jpands.org.
Joiner, T.E. (2007) Why People Die By Suicide. Harvard University Press. USA.