Guest post: “There has never been a more important time to speak to our children about feelings and the importance of mental health”
Children’s book author Esther Marshall shares what motivated her to write a book aimed at encouraging children to talk about mental health
Posted on: Tue 08-Dec-20 11:22:02
(8 comments )
I first became passionate about writing books for children after becoming a mum for the first time. Just over two years ago, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility to teach my son to believe in equality, and to ensure I instill in him an understanding that regardless of race, religion, gender or class, everyone should have access to the same opportunities. Then, earlier this year, another experience shook me to my core - the tragic suicide of my younger sister, who suffered from mental illness, at the age of 28. Together, these two personal experiences are the impetus for my Sophie Says book series.
My sister Rebecca was the most kind and beautiful soul that anyone has ever met. Always thinking of others - an exceptionally talented artist, and extremely intelligent to boot. She qualified as a doctor even while going through internal turmoil and suffering with bipolar disorder. Her life for the six years before we lost her consisted of periodical stints in NHS mental health hospitals. Throughout those stays, the NHS staff were phenomenal. Mental health wards can be harrowing places. I say that from personal experience (after spending so much time there with my sister). On the face of it, the wards are scary. There are constant screams and sobbing. There is also an element of danger, as you do not know when a patient will suddenly lose control and what they might do. But when you spend so much time in these wards you get to know the patients in there for who they really are - and they are wonderful people, scared and vulnerable, and trying to make their way through deep pain and suffering.
I know that for the rest of my life I will spend every day trying to eradicate the stigma of mental illness
When I took my sister to A&E for the first time, they explained that as I lived in a different area to my parents, they couldn’t admit Rebecca, because the hospital Trust was not the nearest to the address on her notes. This angered me so much - would any other acute medical condition get treated like this? It took me five days (and it would have been longer If I didn’t call multiple times a day) to get Rebecca into a hospital so she could receive the care she needed. During those five days at home with me she was in an extremely fragile state, going through a psychotic episode, something a family member can never prepare themselves to watch while being the one responsible to administer her incredibly strong medication. It has been an incredibly steep learning curve for me and I know that for the rest of my life I will spend every day trying to eradicate the stigma of mental illness and teaching children from a young age the importance of paying attention to mental health.
A recent study* found that 80% of parents believe that mental health is an important topic that should be addressed in children’s books, and yet two-thirds of parents do not own a book which does. Children’s social awareness and emotions develop from as early as 18 months. Many people are not comfortable with speaking about their emotions, so many parents will naturally be worried or anxious about bringing this topic up with their children. They will be worried about whether talking about mental health may make their child more upset or anxious. That is why it's vitally important that there are children’s books which provide a toolkit for parents. Books that can be read with children to help create a safe environment talk about their feelings. If parents can talk to children about this and get their children to talk openly and honestly it will help them build resilience, build self-confidence, make relationships stronger, help them learn about other people and in the long run with more people talking about feelings it will help reduce the stigma.
There has never been a more important time to speak to our children about feelings and the importance of mental health. With the effects of COVID not fully known anxiety and worry has increased in the overall population. If we are not speaking to our children about their worries and reiterating the message that it is okay to have worries and speak about them openly, I fear it will have a detrimental effect on the next generation’s mental health. If we are not careful, mental illness will be the next pandemic we will be trying to combat.
You can buy Sophie Says Series here and follow Sophie Says on Instagram @sophiesaysofficial
*Survey of 1,000 UK parents conducted independently by Snap Consulting
By Esther Marshall
I am very sorry to hear about your sister. You sound like you were very caring to her.
I will look at the link. It might be something the PSHE lead at my school would be interested in getting for the children (primary).
@ScabbyHorse - Thank you so much for your kind comment. If your PSHE lead is interested in this please reach out to us at email@example.com as we do a special rate for schools. Thank you
I am so sorry for the loss of your sister. It's so very sad.
I wanted to know if your book is for profit or whether you are donating any profit to charity?
I am so sorry that you have lost your sister . I very recently lost a young family member to suicide and it is devastating. Anything that helps young people talk to someone and get help, must be a good thing.
I’m terribly sorry to hear of your sad loss, Esther. How terrible for you
While I would not wish to denigrate the good work you are clearly motivated to do after such a tragic event, I would query whether the books are backed with expert opinions or are they written with a mind that any talking about mental illness is positive? As the poster above me puts it ‘anything that helps young people talk to someone and get help.’
All too often it’s assumed with mental illness that talking about it is a cure - I’m not sure that this is the case. Anything done to support people with mental health problems, or to prevent mental health problems, should be based on the best evidence and judged by people with appropriate clinical qualifications. Even some of the treatments with the best average effects are ineffective or even harmful in some cases. Talk therapy is included in this.
And mental illness is immensely complicated. Unfortunately, while I don’t doubt a stigma exists, this stigma is being broken down in favour of it actually being in danger of becoming something that is badly diagnosed by those who aren’t experts in the field.
None of this is to say I feel writing and talking about mental health is a bad idea but I do feel it is wise for all of us to be aware it is an area where some will shamelessly take advantage.
I'm so sorry to hear about your sister, I hope you've had support as a family and that you are okay.
Having struggled with MH myself, I agree it's important to eradicate the stigma attached to it.
Looking at your books to put on my DD's list. Thank you.
Hello, thank you for your message. 10p of every book is going to charity. All the other money that is made from the books is invested into making a positive difference for the next generation be it free resources for teachers and parents to help them talk through these difficult topics with children
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