"It's ok 2 be not OKAY"- A radical platform for the YOUTHS

When was "it's ok 2 be not OKAY" movement started?
The movement was first initiated in December 14th, 2017. My aunt was actually hospitalized in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and that was the day when I received the fourth message informing me that someone has jumped down from a high-storey building. It was the fourth case within 2 weeks. I was at the hospital and the morale was already low.
When I received the message, I was starting to wonder on what is happening to our community as it was the fourth suicide case that I came across. Upon reading that news, I sent a message out to my media friends asking them to send encouraging messages to people by reaching out to them through social media. I wanted the message to reach out at the soonest and through celebrities was one such way.
There was no movement in the beginning, I just wanted to send out a social message as a means of social responsibility on my end. The idea was very simple on sending messages through the various platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram to discourage people from making rash decisions. I sent out this request message to over 20 celebrities, to which a few responded immediately. Some responded saying they will send me videos and then there were a few who didn’t respond at all.
The first few who responded immediately were – Dhivyah, Bharathi & Gayathri. These 3 girls, with their recollection about their struggle over the years touched me a lot. Their sincerity and willingness to help gave me the strength & motivation to do something for our community.

In my request message, I had asked everyone to send me a video within 1 – 1.5 mins. However, these ladies sent me a 4-7 minutes long video in which they talked their heart out and shared some of their personal moments. At this point  I have to mention Kumar whom I had  approached to support me in this movement. He readily agreed to be on aboard without a single question asked.
And so I texted the three ladies back asking if they were comfortable with the video content being uploaded on social media as the content had the potential to be viral. They unanimously assured me that they were fine with the video being uploaded on the various social media platforms as long as it was going to benefit the people who watch it.
I had a group chat with a bunch of friends, Kokilavani, Kalaivani, Vishali and Jaya Rathakrishnan with whom I sought advice for the videos I received. Upon seeing the videos, they told me that the content was spectacular and many viewers would be able to relate to what was being told. One of them even suggested to shoot it in the proper way with the necessary camera equipments and location. The initial content was shot by the artistes on their handphone cameras.
I decided to shoot the videos including Kumar’s once again but this time in a professional way with the right background and equipment. When my team and I were having a discussion during our brainstorming session, one of them said the phrase “It’s ok 2 be not OKAY” in passing which sounded perfect for the movement that was to be born. I thought the phrase sounded positive and relevant to our cause. The whole idea of this movement was to prevent suicides. However, I didn’t want to harp on the fact. I decided to go with a subtle approach, so that the message given wouldn’t be too much in anyone’s face. With the support of more friends I continued on the cause.

Once the title of the movement was confirmed, we shot the interviews of Gayathri, Dhivyah & Bharathi against a white background. We even printed t-shirts with our logo & tagline “It’s ok 2 be not OKAY”. With all the planning on track, the first video of the movement was ready to be uploaded on the 14th of January 2018 on our official Facebook page. The page was only created a day before and on the 14th of January at 2pm, we trailed the first teaser in which Bharathi, Dhivyah and Gayathri are talking about their own mental conflicts.
On the 16th of January 2018, we trailed Bharathi’s teaser, in which she was talking about the mental traumas and emotional turmoils she had suffered. In the teaser, we mentioned that the video will be uploaded the next day to the page at 12pm. However, due to some technical glitch, we had a delay. By 12.05pm, people started sending our page inbox messages asking on why was the video still not uploaded. At 12.25pm we finally released the first episode of “It’s ok 2 be not OKAY” campaign.

Within 2 days, the video garnered an amazing response, gathering over 200,000 views. From there, the campaign continued on with Dhivyah, Gayathri & Kumar. We had an overwhelming response to all the videos, and at the same time more celebrities such as Narain, Nishmen, Sivakumar and etc came forward to share their stories and create a change in the society.
Within the first few months since we started this campaign, our page received 10,000 followers. And one fine day I received a message in my “It’s Ok” Inbox from CHAT - “Community Health Assessment Team” – a national outreach and mental health check programme under Institute of Mental Health (IMH). They were keen on collaborating with us in educating our community on mental health, something which they had tried but weren’t getting the right response as Indians weren’t very forthcoming in acknowledging nor embracing it.
On that note we embarked on our journey confidently, knowing we were doing something right.

You work pretty much is in mainstream media. Is there a reason why you chose social media as a platform to launch "It's ok 2 be not OKAY", instead of using tv as a platform?
The platform that is highly in trend is social media. It is a vital platform to put our message across in a clear and concise way. Even icons such as Superstar Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan are active in social media in order to connect with their fans and display their thoughts. By doing so, they are directly communicating with the people. The motive is very straightforward. We wanted to give a name and an identity to depression.
I believe we have almost succeeded. More organisations such as Narpani Youth Wing has called us for collaborations. Some Grassroot clubs also gave us a call to come down to talk on the issues surrounding mental health. Issues that dealt with depression and suicide were considered to be a stigma in the society. Such sensitive topics were not really talked about. Thus, many liked the idea of the issue being addressed on a social platform.

We decided to go ahead with social media channels only due to easy reach. We could have had an ordinary person talking about his or her experience with personal life issues. However we were in a rush to educate our community to break the stigma and the fastest way to that was through our celebrities. Besides that, we also wanted the common man to know that EVERYONE went through problems and that it could happen to anyone – and hence the celebrities.
The people who might really need help could only be the 3,000 people out of the 250,000 people who saw the videos on Facebook. That 3,000 were our target – the ones who needed help and whom we wanted to reach out to.

While majority of the feedback on your initiative has been resoundingly positive, we did notice a few FB status especially from medical professionals, who felt that some of the speakers were talking about depression frivolously?

Almost all of the interviewed celebrities have been certified with depression, sought professional help, took medication and or had asked help from a friend or family member, which were the very reasons why they appeared in the videos. In the videos, they shared on their personal account and how they came out of it.

There was never an insistence on the way to be or triggers at any point. To add, all our videos have also been watched by the experts and them giving their thumbs up was also another assurance as we didn’t want any repercussions or wrong messages sent across.

The term depression can be seen in two ways. However, feeling depressed is very different from going through depression. Dr. Swapna Verma from IMH gave us an insightful interview for our page. She clarified very simply on  the differences between clinical depression and adolescent angst.

After the celebrities shared their life events with us, there  has been many who had, has and still are dropping us messages on our Facebook page inbox as well as the celebrities inbox thanking us on helping them to not make a drastic decision, being there to hear them, etc and expressed their gratitude for starting this initiative.
Kumar who left his number on his video for those who didn’t have anyone to turn to mentions that he still gets messages, sometimes 2am in the morning. Some message asking him for advice, whilst most just wants a listening ear which he has been offering. He has already received more than 200 calls and messages and it has still not stopped. He is more than happy doing his part.

In most cases, people just want to be heard. They are not seeking advices. Thus, our ultimate aim is to stand against suicide. Suicide is the final conclusion that people reach when everything else fails. The actions that they should take before coming to a rash decision are the baby steps to identifying the issue and seeking professional help. However, some of our speakers mentioned of not doing it. One of them was Nishmen.
He shared that while he was going through an issue which he could not come out of mentally and was fighting a demon within him, the battle gradually affected his peace of mind.
We have to realise that sometimes our mind overpowers our actions. We have to strengthen our mind in order to overcome the emotional turmoil we endure in our lives.

Your team recently had your first public sharing event. Tell us about the experience.
It was a fantastic moment. The underlying statement of our page is “We are here to hear”. Initially we put up our idea as “We are here to help”. But then, I realised that it is a learning process for everyone and the first step was to reach out and hence the change of word. As one of our movement plans, we have started going for sessions in IMH where we learn on how to identify people who are dealing with mental issues and on how to approach and speak to them.
Recently we attended a run event organized by the Narpani Youth Committee, to create awareness for the first time on “Mental Wellness”. Though there were so many booths and lines up planned for the audience, the crowd of more than 300 left almost immediately after the run. When we asked the remaining audience on questions with regards to depression and other related mental wellness, they were not able to answer. They had no idea on where they could turn to for help. That was a true realisation for my team that the Indian community was very unsure on wellness and on information with regards to seeking help.

After consulting IMH, we decided to have our first sharing session. We were there to listen to the different stories the attendees had to share. About 25 people responded back to our event through social media and out of the 25, 18 people attended the event. We also had 3 experts from IMH & Chat for their expertise and supervision.
It’s very encouraging have the support of both IMH & Chat. And with their guidance we have many more plans to reach out to the community which we will be updating in our page.
I have about 20 members cum well-wishers consisting of family and friends supporting me in my campaign in many ways be it sponsor of venue, refreshments, collating & coordinating events, etc. Together with IMH & them, we have decided to have about 13-15 sharing sessions and on the last session, we are considering of holding the session at an open area for more people to join us and be a part of the movement.

I truly feel there is an external force that is pushing us forward to help those who are in need to address their issues. Having a mental health issue is not a taboo in the society. We consume medicines when we are physically ill. Depression is similar to that. It can be cured with medication and counselling sessions. People need to start addressing the problem.

I would encourage those who need help to watch the videos uploaded on our page because these videos are very informative and inspiring. They would know that they are not alone and that it’s ok to be not okay.



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