A new book launched last month aims to explain serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia to children as young as four. The story Pretend Friends, written by Alice Hoyle, illustrated by Lauren Reis, and published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, uses the analogy of imaginary friends to explore the differences between childhood imaginary companions, and adults who hear voices or have other hallucinations or delusions as a result of mental illness. The author is donating all royalties to the charity Rethink Mental Illness.
One reader, Joe Hayman CEO of the PSHE association, stated “One of the most important books I’ve read in some time” and described the story as a ” must-read – brilliantly-presented, touching, poignant, insightful and very important”. Another reader with lived experience of schizophrenia, Katy Gray said ” I love the idea of introducing young children to the concept of severe mental illnesses, to help them learn not to be afraid of adults living with one. Hopefully if children can learn about mental health at a young age, they will grow up into understanding adults, less likely to have stigmatising beliefs about mental illness.”
Some parents might be concerned that children don’t need to learn about serious mental illness, in case it upsets or scares them, but as the author points out “One in hundred people will experience schizophrenia or psychosis, therefore there are children in families who will have friends or relatives living with such conditions, who are desperately searching for a tool to help them facillitate the conversation with their children. In a world where mental health stigma is one of the biggest barriers to seeking help and recovery, then it is important to educate the younger generation about mental illness and mental health stigma so that they grow up into supportive accepting adults.”
She went on to state “The story has been very carefully written to be a gentle non-scary introduction to serious mental illness. The main character Little Bea finds out about how we can support adults living with mental illnesses in their recovery, but it is also made clear that she is not expected to try and make things better. This was very important so that a child reading would not feel worried or upset or that they needed to take on caring responsibilities if they found out someone close to their family was hearing voices. That job is for adults not children.”
Nigel Campbell, Associate Director of Communications for Rethink Mental Illness, said: “We’re delighted to have linked up with Alice for the launch of Pretend Friends, and we’re very grateful for her generosity in donating the royalties to Rethink Mental Illness.
“Mental illness affects every family in some way, but it can be difficult for parents to know how to talk about it with their children. There is still a great deal of stigma and misunderstanding around conditions like schizophrenia and psychosis, which makes them even harder to discuss.
“The book is a really imaginative and fun resource, which will help children understand what life is like for people who are experiencing symptoms like hearing voices, or seeing things that aren’t there. As they get older, hopefully it will help children become more aware and accepting of others who are affected by mental illness.”
The story is available now from JKP, Foyle’s or Amazon or in all other good bookshops with all royalties going towards Rethink Mental Illness. Let us know what you think about using story books to talk about mental illness with children in the comments below.