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Nadiya: My Monster And Me

Nadiya Hussain has long been a champion for young people's mental health. As she prepares to release a picture book about anxiety, My Monster And Me, we caught up for a chat about why she wrote the book, how to be a good listener and why she's supporting #HelloYellow.

Can you tell us a bit about your new book? Why did you write a children’s book about anxiety?

My Monster and Me tells the simple story of a boy and a monster who rules his life.

It’s a very personal story, as I’ve dealt with anxiety myself from a very young age. I’ve always thought of that anxiety as my monster. Some days the monster is in my face no matter where I turn, he keeps shouting. Other days, he just taps me on the shoulder throughout the day so I can never totally forget him. Sometimes he’s small enough to put into my pocket. But whatever happens, he’s always there. I wanted to share my story with young readers and their families so they know they are not alone and learn the power of sharing your worries.

What does #HelloYellow mean for you?

I’m so pleased to be supporting #HelloYellow and encouraging young people to open up about their mental health, it’s something that I was not able to do as a child. I bottled up my feelings for far too long. 

Why is it important to talk about your mental health?

Often just talking is the first step to being able to manage anxiety. In My Monster and Me, when my main character talks to his Gran, his Monster begins to shrink. Sometimes when we’re scared of talking about something we give it power over us – sharing your feelings can stop that from happening.

A huge problem with having a mental health illness is the lack of communication. If I break my finger, I go to the hospital. If I have a cold, I go to the pharmacy. If I’m broken inside, what do I do?

To help the healing process I wanted to be honest and speak truthfully to let people know that I am suffering too.

Do you have any top tips on how to be a good listener?

Keep an open mind. You might not always fully understand what people need to talk to you about but that’s OK – you’re here to listen and not to judge. Often it’s very hard to get to a place where you are able to speak to someone, so acknowledge that it will have taken a lot of courage to get to this place and be as supportive as you can. A cup of tea and a slice of cake won’t hurt either!

I love walking and I find that going for a walk with someone can be a good way to encourage them to talk. There’s something about being side by side which makes sharing feel less confrontational.

What other top books around mental health would you recommend to young people?

Although it’s not strictly around mental health I’d have to recommend Michael Rosen’s The Sad Book, which is a really beautiful, sensitive look at loss with the most amazing Quentin Blake illustrations.  Black Dog by Levi Pinfold is a really striking way of looking at depression – and how it can get bigger and bigger if you ignore it.

Another classic title around worries is The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside and Frank Rodgers. In this book Jenny carries a huge bag of worries around with her until she learns the power of sharing your concerns. For older readers, Matt Haig is an excellent advocate for talking about mental health and The Truth Pixie is aimed at guiding kids through their most worried moments.

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