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Mental Health Q&A with Jacqueline Silvester!

Welcome to day 6 of the Wunderkids Blog Tour! This blog tour is to celebrate the wonderful YA book series, Wunderkids by Jacqueline Silvester. And to do this Jacqueline wanted to do something different, she wanted all the posts to be personal to each and every blog. So for my post, I thought we would do a Q&A about a topic close to my heart, mental health.

Why is it important to talk about mental health?
It’s super important to talk about mental health, often and in-depth!

Because we are not robots that just need our parts oiled and changed in order to function properly, as much as the body matters, the mind matters a great deal too. The mind can get sick and mental illness can be a huge hindrance. Anxiety can stop you from going outside just as much as a broken leg (trust me, I know.) Unfortunately, society is a lot more understanding about broken legs than they are about anxiety disorders.

When it comes to mental illness you hear a lot of ‘oh, get over it,’ ‘lighten up,’ ‘go outside’ and ‘cheer up’ – but mental illness doesn’t work that way. It needs proper attention, proper care, and treatment, and healing, and talking about. That’s why it’s important that we don’t shy away from the topic.

In particular, why is the awareness of mental health important in YA?
Teen years are formative years. Without the proper guidance or someone there to tell you ‘this is ok,’ ‘you’re ok’ – ideas and trauma can form that lead to mental illness down the line. It’s also a time where you are very vulnerable to the outside world because you are discovering a lot of things for the first time. At that age you need to be made aware of certain things, and you need a guiding light and for some YA fiction can play that role. It can spread the awareness that parents, or schools perhaps failed to spread. Also lead characters with mental illness in YA have shown me that you can both be mentally ill and incredibly strong at the same time. (Think Kaz Brekker in Six of Crows)

With that said, some YA can also be harmful and triggering but the online YA community is pretty good (in my opinion) about calling these problematic portrayals out.

Why did you want to include mental health issues in your book?
I didn’t set out to include mental health issues in the book; not in my debut anyway, they just kind of seeped in because I grew up around people with mental illnesses and I’ve struggled with depression and PTSD myself. They aren’t as apparent in part one as they are in the sequel, but they are there.

When I set out to write this book, I didn’t really understand my own mental problems and now I’m learning more and more about what I’ve gone through, where it has lead me and how I can start working on getting over some of my issues. I’m hoping to put my characters through a similar learning process. Right now, a lot of the trauma occurred before book one and then throughout book one. The following two books is when we will experience the characters dealing with the consequences of this trauma and their own mental illnesses.

Why do you think there is such a taboo around mental illness?

I think partially because mental illness is inconvenient to those who have never experienced it. They can’t see any physical ailment on you so they just don’t understand, and when they don’t understand they get irritated, and then suddenly they are irritated with your ‘lack of desire’ to get better. It’s a cycle. Because they lack awareness and society shies away from mental illness as a topic (because it’s an uncomfortable one,) it becomes easier to shove it under the rug than to talk about it.

Do you have any advice to give young people suffering from mental health issues?
Protect yourself, from all that is triggering or harmful to you. Trust your instincts and remember that YOU come first, your self-love and self-care come first. Loving yourself, healing yourself, investing in yourself and feeling better is NOT selfish, it’s called survival. And don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise.

Try and find your so-called ‘tribe,’ the people who will welcome you and understand you are out there. Remove yourself from damaging situations straight away, cut out entire friendships, relationships or places if you have to- your first and foremost assignment in this life is to protect yourself and you have a right to remove yourself from anything that is harmful or painful or damaging.

I think the YA community is very supportive and open (I personally have found a lot of support on Bookstagram.) Of course this might not be 100% true across the board and the Internet can be a very negative place, but you can also find your little niche, a place where you feel safe and welcome. At one point making Pinterest boards of positive quotes was the only thing that kept my anxiety at bay.

My other advice would be that you ignore the stigma surrounding mental illness, do not ever be ashamed. For years, I thought embracing my mental illness would be a sign of weakness (this came from social and cultural conditioning) but embracing and acknowledging it has given me a lot of strength. It’s been kind of like reclaiming what’s happened to me, like making what I thought was a dirty word into a positive one. Throughout this process I learned that my issues are not my fault- I don’t beat myself up about feeling this way anymore. Someone a while back taught me- ‘how people treat you cannot ever be your fault’- they were right, and that realization helped me a lot.

It has taken me years but I now embrace self-care and have learned to protect my mental space. Admitting to myself that I do suffer from some forms of mental illness has helped me treat my mind like something that needs the extra care, and healing, and gentleness, and protection. I don’t throw myself to the lions anymore just to prove how strong I am. I am strong because I protect myself.

Also, learn early about helpful concepts- there is so much literature out there (a lot of it is free) on topics like loving detachment, negative co-dependency, the meaning of emotional labour, rituals of self-care, how to recognize abusive relationships, tips for anxiety and so much more. Reading has helped me a great deal.


PS: I see you. Your mental illness is a battle scar. You’re beautiful and awesome, and strong, and you can survive and thrive.

Thanks to Jacqueline Silvester for letting me be apart of this awesome blog tour! Make sure to check out part one of the Wunderkids books and keep your eyes peeled for more...

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