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Heather Gallagher talks about Happy Pants and Mental Health

Heather Gallagher talks about Happy Pants and Mental Health
1. Could you tell me about how your particular book works through young kids and their experiences with mental illness in their relatives/older friends?
Happy Pants – Why is Mummy so sad? was conceived to give children an insight into post-natal depression. The idea was to provide an ‘everyboy’ character who kids can relate to and show how he grapples to understand his Mum’s depression. My experience with other mothers suffering Post Natal Depression was that they tried to hide it from their kids – not cry in front of them, etc – but kids instinctively know something is not right. The idea with Happy Pants was to provide reassurance that the child is not the only one in this situation and that things will improve with time.
2. Why do you think it’s important to teach children about mental illness and the effects it can have on those who are close to the person affected?
Mental illness is a huge issue in our society and yet there remains stigma. The only way to break down the stigma is to keep talking about it – it’s also really helpful when high profile celebrities like Buddy Franklin come out about their experiences. The chances of a child being effected by someone with a mental illness or going on to suffer one themselves are great. To my mind, it’s better to be forewarned. If we educate our children about mental illness, they will be more likely to seek help early and hopefully more empathetic to others who might be suffering.
3. What do you hope children learn from your book?
I like to think my book works on a couple of levels. Obviously, it is specifically aimed at children whose mothers are suffering from PND and I hope in this respect it will provide a sense of recognition and comfort. But I’ve been told by other readers that the book can also work to explain to a child about a mother suffering from another kind of illness or even to just let kids know that even Mums have their bad patches.
4. Have you been affected by the presence of mental illness in your life i.e. a relative or a friend close to you? What about this experience changed or affected you?
I suffered post-natal depression after the births of both my children and have suffered from more general depression on and off throughout my life. My PND actually connected me with some wonderful women (also suffering) who have become enduring friends. I think one of the elements of depression is that you are in a state of perpetual existential angst – what am I here for, what’s it all about, etc? For me, and many of my friends, the depression actually acted to firm up a resolve to take a different life path. It crystalized my passion for writing and I actually wrote Happy Pants while recovering from a bout of depression. 
5. Do you think that from this experience you realised the importance of learning about mental illness from an early age? If not, what was the inspiration behind writing the book?
I grew up in an age where people talked about ‘loony bins’. Mental illness was not talked about. Looking back, I think I was probably depressed when I was doing my HSC but it would never have occurred to me to call it that or to think to ask for help. I think kids are much more aware these days and most schools have wellbeing counsellors, anti-bullying initiatives and other programs in place to support mental health.   
I think talking about mental illness with kids can be compared to talking about sex. The sooner you can feasibly introduce it so it’s just a normal part of life, the better. Kids are really young (usually) when their Mum is suffering from post-natal depression so I guess this was part of my motivation. To create a tool for parents and teachers to discuss this subject which has probably been bothering the child but they haven’t got the language to talk about it. 
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