When I was in fifth grade I wrote in my journal one day that I was upset about not having any real friends at school. My teacher reminded us, like she did every day, that our black-and-white composition notebooks were for our eyes only. She would read them only if we asked her to. That day, I asked her to.
This turned out to be my cry for help.
My parents had recently divorced after years of domestic violence and infidelity. My sister and I lived with my mother, who was grappling with the emotional and financial toll divorce takes on a family. Life at home was tense and shaky. I didn’t understand any of it.
That’s probably why a small fight with popular girls in class felt so catastrophic. In an instant, I became unglued.
As a journal-keeping adult (who has since gone through therapy), I believe that, as a child, I probably suffered from undiagnosed anxiety mixed with depression. I certainly wouldn’t be alone.
Despite the prevalence of mental-health issues in modern life, people of all ages still face many barriers to treatment, including cost and access, especially in regional areas. And social stigmas run rampant even as awareness increases.
While many mental-health experts would agree that having a journal alone is not a substitute for mental-health treatment, it can help. What helps even more is that it’s so accessible. Journals can be tailored to any age, interest, ability and income level. You can doodle. Scribble. Colour. There are no barriers.
“Imagine a photo journal, filled with images that are meaningful to the child, or a musical playlist, where the tone or lyrics of the songs capture a child’s feelings,” says Jaime Malone, a New Jersey-based counsellor.
Malone says keeping a journal helps children develop a sense of ownership and positive control over their emotions. These skills come in handy when events in their lives or in certain environments feel scary or out of their control.
After a family move, I noticed one of my daughters struggling with her…