Helping kids turn page on mental-health challenges

Kristin Legault-Donkers, a Psychology student at King’s University College who was diagnosed with severe major depression and generalized and social anxiety at age 13, has written and published four children’s books, on depression, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder. Through their protagonists, Zack and Zoey, the books explain symptoms of the disorders in a way a child can relate.

Adela Talbot // Western NewsKristin Legault-Donkers, a Psychology student at King’s University College who was diagnosed with severe major depression and generalized and social anxiety at age 13, has written and published four children’s books, on depression, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder. Through their protagonists, Zack and Zoey, the books explain symptoms of the disorders in a way a child can relate.

For Kristin Legault-Donkers, it will be worth it if just one child reads and relates to Zack and Zoey.

“When I was 13, I started to struggle with depression and anxiety. I was hospitalized several times, on and off. I just felt alone,” said the 18-year-old Psychology student at King’s University College.

While doing much better today, as a child struggling with mental health, she found it hard to understand what she was feeling and why. She didn’t know how to cope, Legault-Donkers continued. She needed someone to relate to.

This is where she hopes Zack and Zoey can step in.

In order to help children and teens living with mental-health disorders, Legault-Donkers has written and published four children’s books on depression, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity and bipolar disorder. Through their protagonists, Zack and Zoey, the books explain symptoms of the disorders in a way a child can relate. They deal with talking to parents, doctors and counsellors and draw upon Legault-Donkers’ personal experience to offer coping mechanisms for children who read the stories and find them relatable.

“There’s so much stigma. It’s really hard to get help. That’s one of the problems. I had to wait over a year, despite being in a hospital, just to get a psychiatrist. Whenever I was in the hospital, they would discharge me without any support. I just couldn’t get better when I left,” Legault-Donkers said.

She wrote the books – Zoey Has Worry Thoughts; Zack, The Very Busy Kid; Zoey Has Very Glum Days; and Zack’s Moods Are Like a Rollercoaster – to show children like her they are not alone, and to raise awareness of insufficient funding and support available to those struggling with mental health issues, she added. Not only did she have to wait a year for an appointment with a psychiatrist after being discharged from the hospital, she continues to pay out of pocket for every visit with a psychologist today, she added. This lack of support is what keeps those who struggle with mental illness in isolation.

And the process of writing the books helped Legault-Donkers, as well.

“My first year in university was the worst year. I had to withdraw from most of my classes. But I have support now, and I’m doing a lot better. In September last year, I decided I wanted to write these books. There’s just so much stigma. The best way to try and stop that or decrease that is to target young people,” she went on, noting her mom, who passed away, lived with bipolar disorder. “I dedicated my books to my mom, because she struggled, too.”

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BOOK LAUNCH

Legault-Donkers is hosting a launch event for her books in her home town of St. Thomas on Aug. 27. Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio and MPP Jeff Yurek both plan to speak at the event, which runs from 1-4 p.m. at the Lakeside Pavilion in St. Thomas’ Pinafore Park. Saidat Abari-Vandenberg, a London children’s entertainer, will also speak. The Oxford-Elgin Child and Youth Centre will have a display and there will be face-painting, music and a barbecue. For more information and to purchase a book, visit www.childrensmentalhealthseries.com.