New Book Seeks to Spark Hope for Children with Mental Illness

Jan 23, 2019

Author Tom Roberts presents on "A New Norm" for a group of elementary students at St. Michael Catholic School in Sioux Falls.
Credit Jackie Hendry

Suicide is the nation’s second leading cause of death for children. The CDC reports more than 20% of youth experience one or more mental health problems like depression. The Children’s Home Society and Avera Behavioral Health are partnering to publish a new children’s book to help kids—and parents—start conversations about mental wellness. 

In “A New Norm,” readers watch a young boy try to escape the storm cloud that follows him wherever he goes. He eventually focuses on a spark of hope that helps him see all of life’s storms will pass.

Sioux Falls-based author and long-time Children’s Home Society partner Tom Roberts wrote “A New Norm.” He hopes the story helps kids be more empathetic towards others, and that it helps them see their own struggles in a new way.  

“And so if we can provide them with those tools and resources to be able to work through that and realize that not everything is going to be hunky-dory and wonderful all the time, but if we kinda work through it like a muscle and exercise that muscle, it gets stronger and stronger and becomes easier and easier for us to work through those kinds of difficulties and find that light,” says Roberts.

The book also has discussion questions to help kids talk to parents and others about bad feelings and ways to find their spark. The pages include some symptoms of depression and phone numbers to call for help.

Thomas Otten is assistant vice president of Avera Behavioral Health Services. He says symptoms to look for in kids include a loss of appetite or interest in things they once loved. He says the duration of those feelings can be key to knowing when it’s time to seek help.

“You know, that loss of interest, if that goes on for more than a couple of weeks, you’re starting to look at something where we might want to look into getting something done,” he explains. 

Otten says Avera offers free mental health assessments and recommendations. He says the message of “A New Norm” is important: anyone can be a spark of hope for someone else.

“Sometimes that spark is a spiritual spark, sometimes it’s a peer, sometimes it’s a teacher, sometimes it’s a counselor," says Otten. "But really, every single one of us has an opportunity to be a spark to a kid by speaking life.”

Avera is working to provide a copy of “A New Norm” for all 220 schools in its footprint. The book is also available for purchase through The Children’s Home Society and Avera websites.

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