Jane Carstens
20 Feb

It should always have been OK not to be OK

When I was growing up mental health wasn’t a topic that was openly discussed, if at all. There was also a strong stigma associated with mental illness (stronger than today). I recall the attitude that having a mental illness was viewed as a sign of weakness, something to be ashamed of, and people who were ‘afflicted’ were hidden away in asylums or institutions. The refrain ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’ was a like a war cry that we rallied around.

Those types of attitudes probably meant that a lot of people who were struggling with their mental health did so alone. There were help lines that we could call, but we mostly smiled through emotional pain. Broken arm. No worries. We will fix that. Broken mind. You’re on your own kiddo. Man up! 

Mental health is finally receiving the attention it always deserved, but I still believe there is an older generation or two (including mine) who believed they had to ‘manup’ or ‘suck it up princess’ no matter what. I know I did. These are the generations who need to acknowledge that it’s OK not to be OK. Let’s face it, life is tough and curve balls keep coming no matter who you are or how old you are. It doesn’t help that in the background we now have social media depicting ‘perfect lives’, many of which are probably illusions. 

Let’s adopt the mantra that ‘it’s always been OK not to be OK’. It’s also OK to ask for, and receive, help when we’re not OK. It’s also OK to tell other people when we’re not OK. We don’t have to smile through emotional pain. We don’t have hide away. We don’t have to go it alone. We are all in this together, and it gets messy sometimes. But it gets messier when we feel ashamed and don’t think we have a right to ask for help because we think it means we’re ‘weak’. There is no ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ dichotomy here. Just the understanding that it’s OK to not be OK.

Oprah Winfrey is from the generation I am referring to, and this is what she had to say about mental health: http://www.oprah.com/inspiration/what-oprah-knows-for-sure-about-mental-illness

Let the conversation begin and keep on going, away from the shadows of shame and into the bright light of day.

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