In 2015 my first children's book Pretend Friends was published by JKP which explains mental illnesses that include hearing voices for children. As an active supporter of Rethink Mental Illness I have donated all my royalties from the sales of this book to the charity. I wrote the story as I wanted to support my children to understand how mental illness can affect some people close to us without overwhelming or scaring them. I searched for books to help me start these conversations, but there is a real lack of such books so I decided to write my own.
The main idea is a gentle, non-scary, age appropriate explanation about what it might be like to live with hearing voices or experiencing things that other people don't experience using the idea of 'Pretend Friends'. My children have vivid imaginations and plenty of pretend friends and it struck me how we don't worry when children have pretend friends but we do worry when adults don't have the same experiences of reality. It's an analogy children can relate to, and simplifies some of the complexities of experiencing psychosis or living with schizophrenia to a level children can understand.
The story explores the adventures of Little Bea and her imaginary friend Nye-Nye and compares them with the experiences of Big Jay and his pretend friends (the voices he hears). The story asks for people to bekind to people like Big Jay and to "love them just as they are".
The story ensures that the main character Little Bea was absolved of any big responsibility to make Big Jay better, but that ways of supporting Big Jay in his recovery were explained. I didn't want a child to 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 should be a grown up job!
I truly believe it is vitally important to start talking about mental healthfrom a young age, so children can learn to look after their own mental health, and to support their peers if they are experiencing issues of their own. Stories such as Pretend Friends can also help children to grow up to be kind and accept people for who they are and not to worry or be scared of people who are different from them. I hope that by supporting children to understand mental illness, this will help our society to become more inclusive, supportive and kind.