May is Mental Health Month. Maybe you are one who feels uncomfortable around anyone who appears to have a mental problem. Maybe you are even afraid that they might try to harm you or themselves if you try to interact. Maybe you are the one with a diagnosed mental illness, and you keep to yourself because of feelings of embarrassment or shame.
How might you react if your child chooses a friend at school who is being treated for severe depression or has attempted suicide? What will your response be to the new person in your book club who says she is bipolar? What about the neighbor who told you he was in the hospital for shock treatment?
We all have our comfort zones and coping mechanisms when it comes to physical or mental illness in ourselves or others. Some of us choose to ignore the problem and hope it goes away, and some of us face the beast head-on. Too often, even in the twenty-first century, dealing with mental issues in ourselves or others leaves us clueless, and without a clear or appropriate path of action.
So what does it mean to deal appropriately with mental illness? I heard about one way on March 5, 2015, when Michelle Obama announced the “Change Direction” campaign, a new mental health initiative designed to raise mental health awareness. This national spotlight on mental illness aims to clearly communicate to students about the benefits of mental health. It includes three powerful messages every school needs to share to create an open environment for students to deal with mental illness:
- It’s OK to talk about mental illness
- There is no shame in seeking help
- There is hope after diagnosis
I’m proud to say that since October, 2014, when my book, Crazy, was released, I have been doing my small part to raise mental health awareness in schools and the community. I maintain that it’s not just OK to talk about mental illness. It is imperative! My book is set in the sixties when talk therapy didn’t exist, the first psychotropic drugs were just being introduced, and mental hospitals were crowded with patients who would be easily treated as outpatients today. But sadly, many of those patients who do seek treatment in the twenty-first century still do so shamefully and/or secretly.
Laura, the protagonist in Crazy, spins her wheels for a while, desperately trying to hide the fact that her mother is experiencing mental breakdowns. Laura’s own mental health is threatened until she begins to deal with the situation by talking it out with both another student and a trusted adult, then finding her own creative outlet, and finally confronting the beast by calling it what it is: mental illness.
It is my goal to use Crazy, as well as a selection of similar books dealing with tough mental health issues, to start the dialogue on mental illness in the safe environment of the classroom. In the next year, I hope to reach as many teachers, librarians, and students as possible with my message which is the same as Michelle Obama’s: Let’s talk about it, eradicate the shame of seeking help, and look forward to the hope that can follow a correct diagnosis.
If you are a teacher or librarian, or know of one who might be open to a classroom dialogue about mental illness, please check my contact page where you can find further information or contact me directly
Congratulations to Cindy Clemens who won the drawing for the ARC of Miriam Franklin’s Extraordinary.