As a child, I suffered serious mental health issues, which spiraled out of control. As a teen and young woman, I ended up in crisis at The Taylor Centre in Auckland, New Zealand. Unemployed, self-harming and suicidal, I was about to change the course of my life forever. Unable to take medication, I spent two years learning to rewire my brain using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
The things I learned during that time were often so simple that it astounded me I hadn’t been taught them when I was younger. If only I’d learned about how I was truly feeling underneath the ‘main’ emotions. If only I’d learned how belly breathing could alleviate the stress in my body. If only I’d learned the importance of finding my place in the world, that sense of belonging.
Gradually, I realised that there was a huge space between what professionals – who are helping people to regain a life worth living – know and what our young children need to know so they don’t end up in in the blackness of being mentally unwell. Then I started to wonder why we needed to be in crisis before learning all the simple tools that can help us change our lives.
Recently, there has been a lot of talk about mental health and we have come a long way in reducing stigma. However, the stats in this country tell us that all that talk isn’t changing much when it comes to our nation’s terrible loss of life due to suicide. Our children, who we love so deeply, need our attention and guidance now more than ever.
I am lucky that I have been able to share with my three boys what I learned about mindfulness, the importance of sleep and a good diet, the practice of belly breathing to reduce anxiety, and the ability to recognise, label and release emotions. But I couldn’t understand why, with so many people struggling, no one was sharing this information with a broader audience – and that is where our children’s books have come from.
Through the books that Craig Phillips and I create, we’ve tried to fill that need from parents and teachers to gain the tools they need to guide our children to care for their mental wellness. I’m also driven to share the lessons I’ve learned first-hand with those who are desperate for help, so they don’t need to witness the ones they love spiral into crisis.
Our first book, Aroha’s Way – A children’s guide through emotions became a New Zealand bestseller because the need for it was very real. Parents report seeing the story resonate with their children, with the time spent reading together providing a space to have conversations about emotions, in particular the uncomfortable ones that are associated with anxiety. The reviews started pouring in from parents whose children had cancer to parents with children suffering as a result of sexual abuse, to kids with autism and anxiety. We even heard about children too scared to speak in class, who were able to ‘blow away those strings’ and accomplish what never thought they could.
We knew we had more work to do because we kept being asked for more books, so we followed up with Let It Go – Emotions are energy in motion. All about ways to release emotions that come and go, it also became a bestseller.
Parents and educators now have books to share that can help teach and guide the children in their lives to a place of wellness. They are also able to use the stories we create to start conversations about how they feel – something most adults never got to experience. As a result, they are now learning TOGETHER that it’s okay to feel all the emotions, that emotions are not good or bad.
Through our work, we’re helping to bridge a vital knowledge gap to help prevent our young ones from ending up in crisis, while also giving them knowledge and guidance towards living a life they love!