Lauren Miller writes about connecting through books for Children’s Mental Health Week
I work in a primary school. The children I teach all have a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Condition which means they are nearly twice as likely to suffer, if they don’t already, from a variety of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.
I’m good at my job. I’m patient and understanding. I go out of my way to research new developments in teaching strategies and attend training to help the young people I support.
Some people I know would be surprised at this. I haven’t always felt comfortable dealing with mental health. I haven’t always been able to talk about it. I haven’t always been there for friends who have been suffering. My overwhelming inability to offer help has meant some of these relationships were almost lost.
The stiff upper lip is a thing of the past.
This week is Children’s Mental Health Week and will hopefully bring about opportunities for children to discuss their questions around mental health and learn appropriate ways to support friends who may be experiencing mental health issues.
Inline with Children’s Mental Health Week, author and teacher Molly Potter will publish with Bloomsbury another in her series of accessible children’s books “What’s Going On Inside My Head?” Illustrated by Sarah Jennings and exploring difficult emotions and how to handle them, “What’s Going On Inside My Head?” demonstrates to parents, educators and children how to develop healthy coping strategies. The book can also step in where adults may not be able to find the right words. Jennings says of writing the book: “It means all the more that [the books are] helping families talk about sensitive and tricky subjects with their children.”
Potter says she would like the book to “help children to navigate life’s pressures” and that she specifically wrote the book “with these preventative tools in mind.”
And these preventive tools will undoubtedly be needed by the next generation. Catherine Roche, Chief Executive of children’s mental health charity Place2Be says “At least three children in every class have a diagnosable mental health issue, and many more worry about everyday concerns from exams to family life.” Around 56% of children have said they “worry all the time.”
Books like “What’s Going On Inside My Head?” and initiatives like Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week will hopefully bring about conversations with young people and address the skewed ways in which mental health issues are often presented.
I hope children will also be given support in how to support each other. After my ignorance around mental health began damaging my relationships, I realised just how instilled in me negative connotations around mental health were. My lip had become so hardened, my socks pulled up so ridiculously high, that I wasn’t equipped to help people I loved. As a Millennial, I’m meant to be emotionally intelligent yet I had so conditioned myself to shut up and shut out considerations of my own mental health, I assumed it was how everyone should be dealing with it; stiffen that lip, pull those socks up, get over it.
I realise now this avoidance also meant I didn’t have to look inwards. It took me thirty years to realise that asking for help doesn’t mean weakness, and that strength can come from admitting something is wrong. I hope that books like “What’s Going On Inside My Head?” and initiatives like Children’s Mental Health Week will mean that for a generation of children, it won’t take them such a long time.
For more information on talking to children about mental health visit Molly potter’s blog https://pottermolly.