Untold Stories

Untold Stories
by Laura Koennecke
10924747_10203407812172599_3398855842908337277_nWhen I was eleven, we lost my brother Kurt and almost every material thing in a house fire. It was a terrible time for my family that was softened by the kindness and generosity of the people who came together to help us. It was an overwhelming and foggy time, to say the least, but there are a few memories that stick out.

There was all the food being delivered daily. That was the year we had lasagna for Thanksgiving. There was Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s and the special gifts they picked out for us – including the stuffed bear for Sheryl that needed an x-ray at my uncle’s vet office for some reason.

And there were the socks. A boy from my bus route, a year or two older than me, showed up at my Grandpa’s doorway with a huge department store bag filled with socks. Brand new, never-been-worn socks in all sizes and colors. To this day, the thoughtfulness of this gift stays with me.

A few years later, this same boy’s father ended his own life. I cried for him, and I wanted to somehow return the kindness that he had shown my family. So I baked him some chocolate chip cookies. I put them on a plate, wrapped them in aluminum foil and set them on the table in the front hall. All that was left was for me to knock on his door and hand them to him.

They sat on that table for at least a week. I’m not sure what even happened to them. But I know I didn’t bring them to him. I didn’t know how to face that much pain, and I didn’t know if he wanted anyone to know what had happened.

I don’t know what led up to his father’s decision, but I do know that people didn’t talk about mental health much thirty years ago, at least not in front of kids. Thankfully that is changing, but there is still a dearth of information about it.

So why talk about this on a children’s literature site? Because books are powerful. Because they have the power to help heal, to start a dialogue, to let a child know that he or she is not alone, to provide an escape.

Because teachers and librarians can include books that deal with mental health on their shelves.

If you look for books addressing issues such as depression, suicide and addiction, there are plenty for teens. The School Library Journal has an excellent article by Erin E. Moulton about bibliotherapy and an extensive list of books by subject area. 

But according to the Educational Research Newsletter, “School personnel need to be aware that many learning disabled children appear to experience depression during the elementary years.” 

Obviously, this is important for parents to know too.

So where are the books for younger kids? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m curious. And I’m not talking about “how to” books; I’m talking about books with nuanced characters that young readers and listeners can relate to.

And, are we as parents, teachers and counselors misreading the signs of mental health issues? According to the Journal of Learning Disabilities, “The presence of depression in school-age children may not be adequately recognized by teachers. Teachers may be misdiagnosing depressed children as having a specific learning problem.” 

Saying that teachers are misdiagnosing is a bit misleading as they aren’t doctors, but they are often the first people to see signs that a child is struggling.

The Educational Research Newsletter also notes that “Researchers do not agree on which is the primary condition; does being learning disabled lead to depression or are learning problems a symptom of depression?”  

There is so much to learn and so much more research that will be done, but ultimately we need to be aware that mental illness can affect anyone, even young children – either as someone suffering from it personally or someone trying to understand what a parent or sibling is experiencing.

So where do we go from here? I guess we keep talking about it, sharing our stories and reading about it. We talk to our children’s doctors. And we stop being afraid to knock on the door and deliver the cookies.

Do you know of a children’s book that addresses mental illness? Let us know in the comments.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years. She first started contributing to Aunt Sheryl’s Book Nook in November of 2015 with her essay titled, Another Christmas Story. One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

8 thoughts on “Untold Stories

  1. Beautifully written, Laura. Those memories still bring tears. There is so much to learn about the human mind. I think strides are being made but most after a tragedy.

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  2. For many reasons…thanks for writing about this, Laura. When my friend and co-worker decided to end his life a few years ago, the pressure to not speak the truth about the circumstances surrounding his death was strong. His cries for help were not unheard. I can only wonder if the subject of suicide was not so taboo, perhaps all of us who saw him struggle would have been better able to help him, instead of feeling utterly helpless in our attempts to reach him.

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    1. It’s really hard to start the conversation because who starts it? The person who needs it most but might not be able to? Or the person who wants to help but doesn’t know how or feels like they are overstepping?

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  3. In the case of a teacher and young student, it may also be the parent is not open to the possibility that their child may be suffering from depression. (Maybe it will go away or the child will just grow out of it.)

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    1. The word depression gets thrown around a lot in a non-clincial way and it’s meaning has been diluted a bit. I think when we use it like that, it sounds like an adult concern – something brought about by exterior circumstances like work and relationships. It doesn’t seem like something that could happen to a child. So it could be hard to make that connection for a parent.

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  4. Contributing to one’s own passing either directly or “accidentally” creates a flood of emotions, often conflicting, in those left behind to mourn the loss of their loved one. Shock, guilt, anger, despair, frustration, and even relief accompanied by guilt over feeling relief. The regret of what was not done, or said, or confronted, eats away at the fiber of resilience; more often than not this all compresses into a wall of silence. People are afraid to speak their truth, and in time the unyielding pain is successfully suppressed. And in time, most of us find some form of relief in this silence.

    Depression and anxiety account for the greatest volume of mental health disorders. The more we learn, the less it seems we know what to do. Ending the silence must be the beginning– our own discomfort will only get in our way. Children must learn about our mental and emotional struggles, as they learn of safe driving, peer pressure and bullying, and self responsibility. Parents, clergy, friends, educators, health care providers. We all must commit to end the silence.

    Overstep, learn, observe, end the secrecy. It must be okay for us to speak up, the consequences of not doing so–are just too severe.

    Laura, thank you.

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