Like the rest of the world, I am so saddened by the death of Robin Williams. He brought us so much joy and laughter. It’s heartbreaking to think of the suffering he endured through his battle with depression.
What more can be done to help people overcome this silent torture? For those of us who suffer, please try, a little harder, to talk about it. Your loved ones want so badly to help you. We just can’t see the inner torture that you are sometimes so good at hiding.
And for the rest of us, we need to listen- harder. We need to empathize. We need to rid the world of the negative stigma attached to mental health issues.
Let’s raise a generation who doesn’t judge and ridicule those who suffer, but strives to lend support and understanding. Here is a collection of picture books that can open the doors of communication with young ones dealing with depressed feelings, or living with someone who is feeling depressed.
Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear (Kids Can Press, 2012 )
is an incredible story about Vanessa and her sister, Virginia, who is in a ‘wolfish mood’. The story, loosely based on the relationship between author Virginia Woolf and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, not only illustrates the strong hold that depression can take on an individual, it also describes the desperation others feel in an effort to ‘cheer their loved one up.’ Vanessa says, “the whole house sank. Up became down. Bright became dim.” The words and the illustrations provide literal and metaphorical glimpses into the effects that real depression can have on an individual and on those who love her.
Kirkus said in its review that the story “works beautifully as a bad-day/bad-mood or animal-transformation tale, while readers who know actual depression will find it handled with tenderly forceful aplomb.”
Frog is Sad by Max Velthuijs (Random house UK, 2014)
Frog wakes up one morning feeling sad, but he’s not sure why. His friends try a variety of things to cheer him up, and eventually his sadness is gone. This story acknowledges that when a person is depressed there often isn’t a ‘reason’ for them being sad. They just are.
When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang (Scholastic, 1999)
In this story Sophie isn’t sad, she’s really, really angry. The words and the illustrations do a terrific job in getting these powerful emotions across to young children. What I love about this story is that it doesn’t apologize for raw emotions. And eventually Sophie is able to get ahold of those emotions. She’s given time and space to work through the emotions. And her family is there with love and support when she is able to return to them.
Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard (Scholastic, 2007)
Bird wakes up grumpy. Too grumpy to eat, play—or even fly. “Looks like I’m walking today,” says Bird grumpily.”
His friends join him in his walk. And somewhere along the way Bird realizes that his friends have stuck with him and his grumpy mood is gone. I love that the friends in the story don’t try to ‘fix the problem’ with a variety of suggestions or reasons for Bird not to be grumpy. They just walk with him, supporting him until the mood lifts.
It’s not our job to make children sad. It’s not our job to overwhelm them with scary information on a disease they can’t fix. But it is our job to teach our children that our emotions can be very powerful. And we deal with those emotions by both seeking and giving understanding and support. And I believe a great picture book can help start that conversation.