Helping kids make sense of depression

Thirroul Public School teacher-librarian Sharon McGuinness's new children's book has the ending she and her family hoped for, but never had.

Sharon McGuinness dedicated her book to her husband who lost his battle with depression two years ago. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Sharon McGuinness dedicated her book to her husband who lost his battle with depression two years ago. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Her book, Coming Home, will be released next week and tells the story of a fictional girl, Gemma, and her father who sinks into a deep depression.

Through the book's beautifully illustrated pages, Gemma learns about her dad's illness and by the end of the story he recovers and "comes home".

Sadly, the same didn't happen for Ms McGuinness's husband Greg, who took his own life in 2010 after battling depression and bipolar disorder.

The couple's children were 12 and 15 at the time.

"The story in the book has a hopeful ending, whereas in real life for us we didn't have that, and that's the bitter-sweet thing about this whole thing," she said.

Ms McGuinness came up with the idea of writing a children's book about depression several years ago, when her husband was in and out of hospital in Sydney and she would travel up to visit him on the train.

"In 2008, we'd had a really hopeful visit, and I was coming back on the train and the story just came to me on the way home," Ms McGuinness said.

"I never made a conscious decision to write a book about . . . depression . . . I was just sitting on the train feeling quite hopeful and the story started to come to me and I sketched it out on the way home."

She hopes the book will help other parents dealing with depression to discuss the topic of mental illness with their children.

"I might just help start a conversation and help in the understanding of depression, because it is really difficult for children to understand," she said.

"In the book I talk about the mother explaining depression to the little girl, and that's exactly what happened with us.

"Greg and I sat the kids down the first time he had to be hospitalised. I remember Greg explaining it, saying it wasn't like a broken leg but it was an illness just the same, but it was harder to see," she said.

"It's incredibly difficult to broach this topic with children, and I haven't in the book, but if I don't talk about the events surrounding Greg's death then I'm just perpetuating that stigma," she said.

Coming Home is supported by the Black Dog Institute and will be launched by Wombat Books at Thirroul Library on October 6.


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