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How do you talk about mental health to children?

For #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek Horatio Clare tells us about why he wrote his award-winning children's novel Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot that features a depressed parent.

How do you talk about mental health to children? The very young, thankfully, live in a world of direct and immediate emotion. When happy, they laugh; when irritated, they shout; when sad they cry, and when worked up they tantrum. You could not be more mentally healthy than the average five year-old. They bear no grudges, nurse no guilts, express and thereby address their worries, and spend little time dwelling on the past, except the striking, idiosyncratic and very good moments. The future, apart from birthdays, Christmases, promised treats and holidays they look forward to, barely exists.

We could learn a great deal about maintaining healthy minds from our children. If a child can get hold of a phone or iPad, he or she tends to use it for the pleasure of narrative, moving images, the adventures of favourite characters: the deleterious, anxiety-producing side of technology tends to miss them - except, perhaps, when told to turn it off.

A few year later, though, this changes. With the crystallisation of memory comes the production of a personal story, and its comparison with other people's, and a sense of the world's great scale, and our tiny, fragile part in it. The happiness or otherwise of parents, the comparison with other children's lives, and the expectations and pressures of school and home begin to circle the growing child.

Since writing Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot I have received many messages from parents and via parents about children who are worriers, or who have a parent who suffers the glums and fears. In over a decade of writing books, nothing I have done makes the work seem more worthwhile than hearing that the story has helped parents and children discuss my hero's adventures in the face of the Yoot (a shape-shifting dung beetle and a metaphor for depression). In some households it has become a metaphor for a parent's blue period. I wrote the book because I have been through those times, and I wanted to find a way of explaining them to my son. The story of an indomitable boy-hero versus a monster that cannot be killed, but which can be understood and overcome, seemed to find me and almost to write itself.

The absolutely vital fact about depression is that it does end. With simple strategies - talking, eating well, exercising, faith and the kindness of close friends and family - it can be outlasted. Its most vicious attack is on the sense of perspective, on the understanding that life is short, and that only love and laughter really matter in the end. These are the themes of the book. That children also read it as a straight and funny adventure story gives me huge pleasure and pride in them, and speaks of their innate understanding and sense of emotional scale.

Depression is only one story among the many thousands through which our lives lead us. Children seem to understand that easily. Like all night fears and private terrors, it flourishes in silence. Talking about it, reading about it, and, when the time comes - which it does, it really does - laughing about it, are how we break its heavy spell.