Health: Why it's OK not to be OK

Mental Health First Aid Instructor Susie Shaw, of Cambridge-based Citrine Wellness, talks about the importance of safeguarding mental health and gives tips on coping during the Coronavirus ‘lockdown’

As I sit here on day one of home schooling a 13-year-old boy who loves to be outside playing sports I’m taking time to reflect on the past year. This time last year I was also sitting inside my house not wanting to go outside and socialise, but for another reason; I had been signed off sick with work-related anxiety and stress. So here are two very different situations but both bring with them the same feelings.

We all have mental health - some days it can be the most joyful of friends and other days it can make the simplest of tasks seem impossible. Life has thrown many things at me over the years, including being bullied as a child, my parents’ divorce and then experiencing my own divorce. We build up this wonderful thing they call resilience, which makes us stronger and we’re told to ‘keep calm and carry on’. But sometimes it’s too much, we don’t or can’t carry on.

What is mental health? To put is simply, there is no health without mental health. The problem is we don’t know enough about it to begin to understand it. It’s surrounded by stigma and quite simply it’s easier to ignore than it is to learn and talk about it. We must talk about mental health; if we talk, we will learn and can slowly start knocking down the stigma that surrounds it.

It's OK not to be OK (34132816)
It's OK not to be OK (34132816)

Over the years I have watched family members live with poor mental health but when I was crippled with anxiety, panic attacks and paranoia I began to really understand the impact it can have on all my life. Things like not wanting to get on a train, socialise, talk to friends or family or become a burden to the people around me.

What I have learnt is that everyone’s mental health journey is different and unique to them. There isn’t a guide to how to deal with mental health - we have to invest the time to understand our own challenges and put in the coping mechanisms that suit us. Mental health is a journey, and there most definitely are ups and downs . . . and that’s normal. It’s okay not be ok, but it’s not okay not to ask for help.

Recovery happens and there’s living proof around us in the people that we know and love; everyone has their own story - you just might not know about it. The key to recovery is talking, listening and being non-judgemental. If we all get this right, we’ll all help each other.

Susie Shaw (32391292)
Susie Shaw (32391292)

So, in these uncertain times, look after your mental health. Remember we WILL and CAN get through this together by being kind, listening and talking. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Remember, it’s okay not to be okay.

Here’s my six top tips to help cope while self-isolating and working from home. . .

1 Maintain a routine – stick to your start and finish time for work and take breaks away from the 'desk'.

2 Check in with people and ask how they’re feeling today. Our emotions will change daily and it’s important to know that we can talk and listen to people about everything.

3 Limit your screen and news time. There’s a lot of information being shared, and it can become overwhelming.

4 Exercise – if you can get outside for a walk, brilliant. If not, there are hundreds of online apps for exercises at home or to create your own routine.

5 Make time to think and talk about things that aren’t related to COVID-19 – time out is important.

6 Be kind to yourself, read books, take a bath, binge on Netflix, watch movies . . .rest the body and mind.

To find out more about the work I’m doing to support mental health visit or email me at

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