The Importance of Mental Health in Books for Children

Guest post by Joseph Elliott

Now – as the pandemic drags on into 2021 and schools shut once again – it’s more important than ever for us to be discussing mental health, including that of children. According to a recent study by the NHS, the number of children experiencing a probable mental health disorder has increased over the past three years, from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in 2020. This rise, in such a short space of time, is obviously incredibly troubling. Whilst there are many ways in which these children can be helped and supported – from exercise and diet to talking therapies – I believe that representation of mental health in literature can also play a role. Recognising an aspect of their own feelings in a fictional character, as well as witnessing how that character overcomes personal obstacles despite the barriers their mental health represents, can be both validating and inspiring. After all, it is only through books that we have the ability to enter the minds of others and discover their most intimate feelings. The potential to provide solace in this way was one of the main reasons I was keen to represent mental health in my Shadow Skye trilogy. The books, set in a mythical version of Scotland and the Isle of Skye, centre around a clan that is invaded and enslaved by marauders from across the sea. One of the protagonists is a fourteen-year-old boy called Jaime, who suffers from anxiety and has frequent panic attacks. In The Good Hawk (the first book in the series), Jaime is pushed to the extreme, battling both real and inner demons in order to rescue his clan. At the start of the sequel, The Broken Raven, Jaime is back on the Isle of Skye. Having succeeded in his rescue mission, he is hailed as a hero, yet struggles to feel the elation that he believes he should be feeling, after all he has achieved. He has frequent traumatic flashbacks, but also feels a degree of numbness about everything that has happened, and his anxiety is intensified by confusion over his sexuality. 

“Since returning to Skye, the darkness has crept in, like something’s not quite right, or like what we achieved wasn’t enough… I should feel proud and full of joy, grateful for everything and everyone around me, yet I feel nothing. What’s wrong with me?”

Drawing from my own experience with mental health, including that of close family members and friends, I wanted to create a hero who was full of insecurities, just like so many of us are; someone with low self-esteem who isn’t always brave and doesn’t always have the answers, yet tries his best and has a willingness to face his fears. As a result, I hope readers will be able to identify with him, and realise that it’s okay to be scared sometimes, to feel anxious or depressed; what’s important is what happens next – the way in which you process and deal with those emotions.

In The Broken Raven, Jaime’s situation is not made any easier by the fact that his clan encourages stoic behaviour and claims homosexuality is unlawful. Both toxic masculinity and homophobia are real issues in contemporary society, and significant contributing factors towards poor mental health and teen suicide. Mental health is often greatly improved through self-love and self-acceptance, but how can people be expected to achieve this if they’re constantly bombarded with societal messages telling them that who they are is inherently wrong? Through the books, I wanted to highlight how damaging it can be when we supress our feelings for fear of judgement, as well as how important it is for us to own our emotions and speak about them to others – particularly if we are feeling anxious or depressed. It takes Jaime a long time to open up about how he is feeling, but in doing so he is able to lift some of the burden that has been weighing him down. Only then can he begin the process of healing and self-love. 

There’s one more book in the Shadow Skye trilogy to come, and I truly hope that readers struggling with their own mental health will find a friend in Jaime and take comfort from his actions as they go on this journey with him. In this time of uncertainty, remember that it’s okay to not be okay, and that often the bravest thing you can do is to ask for help.

Links:

Helplines 

  • Samaritans 116 123
  • Childline 0800 11 11 (also has an online WhatsApp-style service)
  • Papyrus 0800 068 41 41 (suicide prevention specifically for young people)
  • Young Minds crisis messenger. Text YM to 85258 (free 24/7 support across the UK for young people experiencing a mental health crisis)

Websites

Mermaids – A charity that helps gender-diverse young people & families – www.mermaidsuk.org.uk

Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG

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