Talking to children about mental illness

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We know that mental illness affects huge numbers of adults and children in this country, Mind suggest 1 in 4 adults have a mental illness, Young Minds suggest 1 in 10 children aged between 5-16 have a diagnosed mental health disorder. Even with the numbers being so high, mental illness is still a subject that many people feel awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable talking about.

I grew up in a family where mental illness was very obvious, my Mum has Bipolar, there was no hiding away from it. As a family, we had many many good times together but there were also times that were hard, days when she was very ill. Back then it was common for people with Bipolar to be hospitalised, my Mum spent many, many months over the years in a large mental health hospital called Barrow Gurney in Bristol. As a child I visited her plenty of times; never really understanding what was wrong, all I knew was that my Mummy was ill, that sometimes she couldn’t look after me and sometimes she needed to stay in the large, scary hospital. Thankfully far more is now understood about mental illness/ Bipolar and hospitalisation is often not needed.

I knew my Mum had an illness but I didn’t have a name for the illness. I didn’t realise what her illness was until I was in a school assembly aged 14 when Mind took the assembly and described mental illness and something called Manic depression ( the name for Bipolar back then). That was a lightbulb moment for me, I suddenly realised that it was not just my Mum that was ill. Having an understanding of her illness really helped me.

I now work with young children and young people some of whom have parents with mental illness, some children and young people who have a mental illness themselves. I passionately believe that we need to help children and young people understand what is happening around them. If they or parent/ sibling has an illness I believe we need to help children understand what that is illness is. I use books all the time in my work, I have a mini library of issue books that I use with children and recommend to people, these vary from domestic violence, cancer, divorce, parents in prison. When I had my own children I started to look for books that I could use to explain to my children about their Granny’s Bipolar, and I couldn’t find any aimed at younger children. There are now books available aimed at older children around 7+ but no books aimed at younger children.

I know it can be hard for adults to know how to begin talking to a child about Bipolar, I know some adults are worried about talking to children at too young an age. In my experience young children are curious, inquisitive, they want to ask questions, they want information, not too much, but enough to help them feel safe. For this reason, I have written a children’s book aimed at children aged 3-7 years. I have recently launched a crowdfunding project to fund the illustration, printing of the book and to turn the book into an animation. My hope is that we can make this book available to children’s centres, nurseries, schools, GP surgeries, CAMHS services. The aim of the book and animation is that children and families can look at this together and begin to talk about Bipolar.

The story is about a Mum, Dad, 2 girls and 2 guinea pigs. It will be a beautifully illustrated book, illustrated and animated by my close friend Jon Birch. It is a gentle story introducing Bipolar, helping children to understand it is not something to be afraid of, and it is ok to ask questions about it.

Please have a look at the crowdfunding page, it would be great if you could support this and tell others about it. We need to raise a lot of money, £13,000. The great idea with crowdfunding is that no money is taken until the whole amount has been pledged, so no-one loses out.

 

Image by Jon Birch, 1 of the illustrations to be used in the book and animation

 

 

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