Health in Mind

Westerners have a peculiar way of prioritizing physical status over the conditions of our minds. We supply, even in casual conversation with children (and other adults), specific names for an array of possibilities when talking about our physical manifestations, including the experience of excellent health, impediments such as injury and disease names, recovery degrees, and advice for improving physical well-being through particular activities and nutritional choices.

Many families, childcare providers, and teachers don’t even broach mental health with children unless some pressing circumstance like hospitalization requires acknowledging the wellness of a mind. We tend then to speak in broad and black-and-white ways, contrasting the state of one’s mind as either in “good mental health” or suffering from “poor mental health.” While we have specific names for afflictions that affect our mental health status, including vocabulary for many blatant and more subtle emotions, we tend to use them less comfortably.

In the past few years, some attention has been given to discussing with openness, at least with children, social and emotional literate ways of thinking and speaking about the states of our minds. At Publisher Spotlight, we see new books from a wide array of publishers that include mental health information and supply fictional characters with explicit mental health attributes. We also have been fortunate to become involved in the annual conference held by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). While school counselors focus specifically on supporting student success in school and career planning, they are aware of how mental health—both of the student and the student’s care providers—affect student potential and school experience. They also work with awareness of cultural implications of student experiences in the school context rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to expression and behavior.

To help us consider more deeply how “mental health,” “psychological wellness,” “mental illness,” and other terms we use as more general catch-all phrases that glide past specifics may be doing both kids and adults a great disservice in recognizing mentally healthy and unhealthy experiences, we’re sharing some recent kids’ books that require us to be both more specific in our communication and less judgmental in our attitudes toward conditions of mental health.

From Child’s Play, Up and Down Mom, a picture book written and illustrated by Summer Maçon, presents a realistic story for preschoolers through second graders of a child whose mother has bipolar disorder. How her mood-induced behaviors affect him emotionally as well as in terms of physical security is well-nested in a narrative that will engage the target child audience, as do the colorful scenes depicted.

My Brain Is Magic: A Sensory-Seeking Celebration, by clinical educator Prasha Sooful and illustrated by Geeta Ladi, published by Soaring Kite Books, works well for the same aged audience. Instead of focusing on the physical touch sensations a sensory-seeking child meets, this picture book explicitly features the mental states excited by these sensations. An added strength of the book as a reading experience for all is its introduction of readily understood metaphors of these mental states as a variety of animals. Here is a way to relate the physical (an animal’s well-recognized typical behavior) to the mental state of the child that may appeal to adults who feel uncomfortable in the land of mental states alone.

Author and illustrator Yijing Li’s Through the Forest, published for a preschool audience by Lantana Publishing, employs another metaphor, that of the titular forest. Readers accompany a child whose life has included significant loss and learns to regard his bad and his good memories as he moves from past to present to the light-filled meadow of a potential future. A significant moment occurs at the beginning of this fable-like narrative when, like anyone who realizes they are lost whether physically or emotionally, the child faces his awareness that he does not know how to navigate ahead. This mental and emotional state is familiar to all of us, whether on a small or large scale. Realizing what that feeling is gives the child—and the reader—the opportunity to allow what comes next which, in the story’s case, leads to the introduction of a guide. Where do each of us find a guide each time we feel lost? Are those guides different with each type of lost sensation? How do we follow when we need a guide?

From Cicada Books, The Grand Hotel of Feelings is written and illustrated by Lidia Brankovic. That the book itself is large in format reflects both the grandeur of the specially appointed hotel and the details and needs of the specific emotions who lodge there. Furthering the visual details that deliver essential aspects of emotional life, the colorful illustrations include hidden details—just as our emotions can hide Easter egg-like elements that further our realizations about them. What manner of accommodation do our specific emotions need? How can we house them and remain “grand” ourselves?

While May 7 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, as designated by the American Psychological Association, we can support kids’—and our own—mental health awareness every day. WE do that for our bodies. Let’s do it for our minds as well.

Find more information about supporting children’s mental health awareness at the APA site.



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