'No questions are stupid, but some of them are big'

Lucy Maddox on writing collaboratively for her new book, 'What is mental health? Where does it come from? And other big questions', published by Wayland.

All books are a collaboration. You might not realise it from the name on the cover, but they are the product of a team of people. The unsung heroes are the editors, the proof readers, the family and friends who talk ideas through and read rough drafts, the illustrators, cover artists, layout artists, publishers, and probably many other people that I am still unaware of. 

What is mental health? Where does it come from? And other big questions is a book published by Wayland as part of its Big Questions series – a range of titles for ten-year-olds and above encouraging them to ask and have answers to complicated questions on a whole spectrum of topics. The book has got my name on the cover, but there are many more voices in it, and there have been from the project’s beginnings. 

I wanted to write a book which talked about mental health as something that we all have, and considered it as a spectrum of experience. I had my own ideas about what was important to cover, lots influenced by having worked with talented multi-disciplinary teams and teenagers in adolescent inpatient mental health settings, but I also wanted to know from young people what they thought mattered. Bowsland Green Primary School in Bristol let me come and speak with their years 5 and 6 about what they thought about mental health, and what they wanted to know. They had brilliant ideas. 


Lots of their questions were about big dilemmas that are hard to resolve or answer (although the book tries!). Some of them reflect the limitations of current discussions about mental health. All too often mental health and mental illness are confused, and it’s no wonder that young people are unclear about what it is. The idea of ‘mental health’ being something bad and ‘other’ is still around. For all the government rhetoric around parity of esteem, there is nothing like that. Until parity of funding is given to mental health services, and until there is a better basic understanding of mental health from an early age, then it will continue to be something that children learn to feel wary of talking about. 

It was helpful to get young people’s ideas about what they wanted to know. It wasn’t only their voices which enriched the book. It was also the contributors who generously gave their ideas and sometimes also artwork for the book. Artists Liz Atkin with her powerful pictures; Fisky the spoken word poet and rapper; clinician Alan Cooklin; mental health professional and previous young carer, Chineye Njoku; researchers Suzi Gage and Marianne Van Der Bree; and from the US ‘Yeah it’s Chill’ aka Christine Rai, who shares relatable comic characters on her Instagram feed, and gold medal winning basketballer player Chamique Holdsclaw. 

Even the final stages of making the book had input from young people which made it much better. Lauren and Joe, a friend’s children, kindly proofed the book and eliminated several naff phrases. 

I really wish young people were consulted with more. Greta Thunberg’s clarity of vision over the climate emergency is an example of the sort of fresh point of view they can bring. Whilst age and experience might sometimes help us to appreciate more perspectives on a problem, I feel that sometimes our expectations get dulled as we grow up – we no longer believe in big possibilities and we feel nervous that we are asking stupid questions. No questions are stupid, but some of them are big. I hope this book answers some of them on mental health, or at least provides impetus for asking even more. 

The book is available from bookshops now. Free resources to accompany the book are available at www.lucymaddox.co.uk/resources

Dr Lucy Maddox is a clinical psychologist and writer. You can follow Lucy on Twitter at @lucy_maddox and on Instagram as @drlucymaddox

See also this interview and chapter from her previous book 'Blueprint'.

The following extract is a two-page spread in the book:


Social media just means websites and apps we use to be social. Most social media sites say you should be over 13 to use them, and there are some worries around the best ways for young people (and adults) to use these sites. 

Why are people worried?

Connecting with people can be good for us, so why do some people worry about social media and mental health? Social media is relatively new. We are still finding out about its effects. Did you know that in the 1500s many people thought that the invention of printed information was “confusing and harmful”, because suddenly more information was available to more people in the form of the printed word. It’s unlikely anyone would be given a hard time for reading books today.

“The evidence suggests that social media can make things worse for some people. But it can be a source of help too. It’s good if someone who cares about you (a best friend, a parent) knows what you’re doing so they can check that the effects are positive not negative.”

Sonia Livingstone, Professor of Social Psychology at the London School of Economics

Professor Sonia Livingstone, social media expert, says it impacts our mental health in at least four ways:

1.         “If we use social media when we’re feeling unhappy or worried or depressed, we might find it hard to deal with the nasty things some people say to each other, so it can make us feel worse.

2.         “At the same time, if we use social media to let our friends know when we’re feeling bad, they can be really supportive and encouraging, making us feel better.

3.         “If we look on social media for something negative or harmful, then the algorithms that select what we see can offer us even more negative content, making us feel worse.

4.         “Sometimes we just use social media to block out the world, forgetting that we’d be better off sharing how we feel with someone we trust who could help.”

Like lots of things, it’s all about how we use it.

Hard to get a break

One tricky thing with social media is that it’s 24/7, so it’s hard to get a break from it. If someone is being mean it can feel hard to escape.

Using social media might also stop us meeting up with people, or having “downtime” when we’re not using our phone or computer. It also might affect our sleep. 

Things that help if you are using social media:

1.         Sleeping in a room without phones.

2.         Unfollowing people and not searching for people or things that make you feel bad.

3.         Having breaks from social media.

4.         Trying not to use it to compare yourself to others.

5.         Trying not to make decisions, get into arguments, or post pictures that you’re unsure about online, especially when you are feeling unhappy or worried.

6.         Remembering things you post stay online or can be screenshot.

7.         Keeping a list of things that you find helpful or happy on social media.

8.         Finding a way of using social media that suits you.


Can you think of more top tips?


What Is Mental Health? Where Does It Come From? And Other Big Questions. Published by Wayland. Price £13.99. Out now.

See also www.hachetteschools.co.uk

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber