May 2, 2022

After loss, 'It is OK not to be OK'

NBA player Onyeka Okongwu and his mother, Kate, a Kaiser Permanente nurse, tell their story of shared loss and shared love.

In a video produced for, Onyeka and Kate Okongwu explain how talking with each other about their grief and mental health helped them to heal.

When Nnamdi Okongwu died in 2014 following a traumatic brain injury caused by a skateboarding accident, his family was devastated.

“Nnamdi was a gentle giant — (he) loved being around his friends and family,” said Onyeka Okongwu, who was 13 when his older brother died.

“He was a good brother,” said his mother, Kate Okongwu, a Kaiser Permanente nurse in Southern California. “Onyeka learned a lot from Nnamdi.”

While Kate struggled to manage her own grief, she also wanted to help Onyeka, who thought of Nnamdi as both his best friend and his hero. Onyeka kept mostly to himself after the death of his brother.

Kate went to group counseling with other mothers who had experienced similar tragedies. In those sessions, she discovered that talking about her feelings helped her feel better. So, she made sure her son knew he could share his feelings with her, too.

Words can make a powerful difference

Talking about depression and other mental health issues isn’t easy but having meaningful conversations with people you trust can be the first step toward feeling better.

“I started talking to my mom (and) people close around me — my inner circle,” Onyeka said. “It’s a lot of weight off your shoulders if you let it out.”

Onyeka is now a professional basketball player with the Atlanta Hawks, something he hopes helps to honor his brother, who was as passionate about basketball as he is. He has also become a strong advocate for prioritizing mental health, and he’s especially passionate about supporting children and teens who are suffering like he did from trauma and loss.

To inspire others to heal through connection and conversation, Kate and Onyeka shared their story on Find Your Words, our public health awareness effort that encourages people to talk about their mental health.

“When it comes to your mental health, it is OK not to be OK,” Kate said. “Reach out to somebody. There’s always somebody there to listen and to talk to you.”

Learn about all the ways you can support yourself, your loved ones, and your community at