Mental Health in Children's Fiction
By Brittany Holness, Bianca Scasserra, Gemma Mathers and Holly Butterfield
Books focusing on an individual’s mental health or self-growth are not new. However, there has been a sudden surge in demand within the publishing market in recent years. Over these years, self-help books have featured topics ranging from personal growth, to coping strategies for anxiety or stress and many more comprehensive topics. While this has been the norm, there has been some shift from the way that mental health has typically been portrayed, as is usually seen in non-fiction books. Instead, there has been a recent trend in adult fiction addressing the same issues in a way that will likely attract a wider audience, as seen in books like Truth Pixie by Matt Haig. Notably is the large growth for mental health fiction for younger children, specifically amongst middle-grade. These topics typically discuss these serious issues in an appropriate child-friendly way that is also easy to comprehend with engaging narratives.
Today’s children face the unprecedented challenge of a childhood surrounded by social media on all sides, potentially creating a rise of anxiety and mental health concerns; pressures in school and at home are drastically impacted by the quick-fire nature of social media – the vastness of which can send anyone into a tailspin of overwhelming information. It is all too easy to get caught up in the world of social media without addressing the problem at its core. A market solely dedicated to mental health in children and young people is needed now more than ever. An article published on YoungMinds.org showed a staggering “one in six children aged five to sixteen were identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2021, a huge increase from one in nine in 2017.” Also, statistics published on The Children’s Society website suggests that “in the last three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem has increased by 50%.” These statistics, while daunting, show the importance of the rapid growth in this market and the need for a space away from social media in which young people can confront their concerns in a safe space. This market allows for a quick and easily-accessible guide to help young readers feel a little less alone facing their concerns. The rise of these texts allow for an important focus to be made on mental health and allows the conversation to thrive in a place where young people are protected, understood and free from the pressure of external factors.
There are many benefits in focusing on mental health in fiction aimed at younger audiences. Fictional tales, revolving around characters struggling with the stresses and anxieties of everyday life, can help to give young children a way to better explain how they feel. Through the use of metaphors, or anthropomorphised emotions, children are able to better visualise and understand what they are feeling and know that they are not alone in their feelings. Whilst they may not have had these conversations with their parents, or at school, these books can help give them the vocabulary that they need to express themselves and can help to spark much-needed conversations. These stories are also vital in the role that they play in reducing the stigma around mental health struggles. Introducing these discussions from a young age and continuing these stories and conversations throughout adolescence can help to make young people feel less alone. Finally, these stories can also be incredibly successful in giving a child the tools and coping mechanisms on dealing with their anxieties. Although these are not long-term solutions, they can help to promote ways of handling their daily stresses and anxieties which they may not have been taught otherwise.
If you’re looking for educational books on children’s mental health, we’ve collated some of the best on the market that tackle those hard-hitting subjects. An example of such is Matt Haig’s Truth Pixie, which explores the life of a young pixie as she learns to love herself. It is a riveting, rhymic story that will truly delight younger audiences for its hilarity and endearing story beats. Talking to children about their anxieties and mental health can be challenging and therefore books such as The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld and What’s up, Maloo? by Geneviève Godbout can provide the perfect way to start those conversations. They not only serve us for entertainment purposes, but can act as reassurances or methods of working through feelings when children are feeling down or overwhelmed by their emotions. Such complex feelings can be brilliantly simplified through the art of storytelling. Children experiencing difficulties with ADHD may appreciate books such as Clark the Shark by Bruce Hale (ages 3–6), Cory Stories: A Kid’s Boo about living with ADHD by Jeanne Kraus (ages 6–9). The Color Monster: A Story about Emotions by Anna Llenas (ages 2–5) and Feel Your Feelings by Scott Stoll and Sara E. Williams (ages 4–8) follows emotional challenges felt by children. Reading these novels can act as great solace and comfort for young people who may feel alone amongst the entanglement of conflicting thoughts and feelings.
This rise in demand of mental health books signifies that these important topics are now continually gaining greater attention and the stigma surrounding mental health will therefore dissipate – creating a platform of openness. Overall, this growing demand reflects a positive change as a society, as there is now a greater focus on mental health and introspection. Similarly, this trend also being noticeable amongst the younger generation will aid this population in greater self-discovery and likely prepare them to better handle their mental health as they become more aware of how to create an environment of self-love, but also compassion and inclusivity for others around them.