It’s OK Not To Be Ok!!?? Really??

An Overused, Unhelpful Cliché That We Need to Stop Using!

The phrase “It’s okay not to be okay” is a popular mental health slogan that gained prominence in recent years. Whilst I was in the UK in the 90s and early 2000s, it was a phrase that was bandied around by the mental health awareness movement, which sought to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and encourage open conversations about mental well-being. It aimed to reassure individuals that experiencing mental health challenges is common and that seeking support is acceptable and encouraged. “All good things!” I hear you say. Yes – and it was truly effective during it’s time – but it did throw up some real concerns.

In fact, the term is being used less and less in the UK, and yet here in Kenya, where I moved to three years ago, this term has begun to take a life of its own – everyone seems to be saying it and, more importantly, believing it.

And this is where the issue arises. Over the last few years, there has been some criticism regarding the phrase, and I would argue that the phrase lacks the depth and nuance needed to address the complex issues associated with mental health. It has become overused, clichéd and a rather throwaway statement.

Some of the reasons that I think we need to be wary of using this term in Kenya (and everywhere) include:

  1. It minimises mental health struggles: By saying “it’s ok not to be ok,” we may inadvertently downplay the seriousness of mental health issues. While it’s important to normalize conversations around mental health, it’s equally crucial to acknowledge that mental health problems require attention, support, and treatment.
  2. It encourages a lack of action: This phrase can sometimes be used as a platitude without any concrete action or support accompanying it. Merely stating that it’s alright to not be okay doesn’t address the root causes or provide practical solutions to help someone who is struggling. It’s essential to back up our words with meaningful support, resources, and empathy.
  3. It discourages people from seeking help: While the phrase intends to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health struggles, it may inadvertently discourage individuals from seeking help. If we constantly tell people that it’s okay to not be okay, they may feel like their struggles are normalized and not worthy of seeking professional help or support from others.
  4. There is a potential for complacency: Repeatedly stating “it’s ok not to be ok” may create a culture of complacency, where individuals feel comfortable staying in a state of distress without seeking assistance or making efforts to improve their mental health. Encouraging personal growth, resilience, and seeking help when needed can be more beneficial in the long run.

As conversations around mental health continue to evolve, it’s important to recognize that different individuals may respond differently to various phrases or slogans. As a mental health commentator who has been in this field for over 20 years, I can’t emphasise enough the need for a more comprehensive approach that includes destigmatisation, education, and access to appropriate support and resources – a call to the Kenyan government to sit up and listen! And, let’s not fall into the trap of hanging on to this overused, unhelpful phrase but rather create an environment where open conversations about mental health are encouraged, and individuals are supported in seeking appropriate help and resources.