At Chapter, our Strong Words series empowers people to tell their mental health stories and inspire others who may be having a similar experience with their wellbeing.
This month, we interviewed author and producer of the Monster series, Donia Youssef, who has written various fiction books about mental health, both for children and adults.
One of Donia’s children’s book series is now being adapted into an animated TV series which is helping children process their emotions in a very positive way.
What makes mental health so close to your heart?
Sadly, my sister took her life back in 2006 when she was just 26yrs old, leaving both her babies without a mother. Prior to her death, we spent 4years trying to get her the help she needed but she was in and out of the hospital and nothing sadly helped her. For the 4years prior to her death, it was like walking on eggshells not knowing whether that day would be the last day we would see her. I felt like I had lost my sister during that period, and it was a devasting period of my life which caused a huge trauma for all the family. On November 13th, 2006, she jumped off a building, so she knew she wanted to go and since then I have been trying to mend the damage caused.
How have you been trying to raise awareness of mental health since?
I was trying as a lone wolf as such, to raise awareness and try and normalise the stigma behind mental illness. I have worked with various charities including the Samaritans and the Lucy Raynor foundation on one of my books called ‘Let your truths set you free’ which is a collection of stories from real people who have bravely shared their journeys on mental illness and what helped them overcome it. By sharing stories other people can relate to I strongly felt this would help others not feel so alone in their darkest moments.
I have held fundraising events and donated money to charities to try so hard to make a difference. I am also very open on social media about mental health in the hope to encourage people to speak up and not suffer alone.
Can you tell us about how your writing addresses mental health?
After seeing my niece and nephew when young, trying to process their emotions with the loss of their mother, I understood then that the first 5years of a child’s life are so important, so I wanted to raise the awareness from young.
In my writing, there is always an underline hidden message for the children to understand and process the various coping mechanisms of mental illness in a very positive, educational, and uplifting way. One of my book series is called ‘Sadie and the Grove’ which helps the children understand, process, and manage their feelings so they don’t feel alone. Going through cancer myself, my daughters struggled mentally which pushed me more into creating additional books, films, and TV series, to reach a global audience, in the hope to make a difference. I have spoken at various events and strongly feel by bringing positive and useful tools for others to use has already proven with my children to help.
How do you hope that your story being adapted into an animated TV series will help with raising awareness?
I feel the more exposure that is brought and available globally to the public, especially for children whose brains are like sponges, it certainly will help and normalise the stigma, so they don’t feel alone and that their feelings are always validated. In the TV series, there are lots of coping strategies in a super fun way which address a huge array of emotions. The characters in the series all come from different parts of the world and some have disabilities, again educating the children to be kind and accepting of others to create a world full of love and harmony.
You can find out more about the Monster series books and upcoming adaptation at Donia’s website.