One of my favourite quotes is someone telling their 16 year old self ‘You are my hero’.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reading Hello You, It’s Me, a collection of mental-health-focused letters from young adults to their teen selves. I loved the concept and outcome so much that I invited Hannah, who edited the book as part of her degree in publishing (HOW COOL), to talk to us about the process, other books she would recommend to teens who are struggling, and what she learned along the way.
Hello Me, It's You is a unique non-fiction collection of letters from young adults/adults to their teen selves. What inspired you to create the collection? Talk to us about the editing process.
Thank you, I really think it’s very unique (even though I’m biased!). I studied publishing at Uni, and in my final year I had to complete a Major project or dissertation. I chose to do a major project and publish a book, thinking it would be more applicable to jobs and also a whole lot more interesting. This was shortly after I’d been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and I was struggling to get to grips with what that meant for me. I then noticed a massive gap in the market where there wasn’t any books written from the point of view of young people, about their experiences with mental health issues. It’s all very well knowing that you’ll be okay 15 years on, but I wanted to know I would be able to handle things in the short term and even to hear it from someone else who was doing okay. I also found that the topic of mental health issues is something where young people got spoken on behalf of, and rarely get given a voice to talk about their experiences. So I decided to create something that I thought would have helped me when I was younger, in the hope that it would help other people too.
I then noticed a massive gap in the market where there wasn’t any books written from the point of view of young people, about their experiences with mental health issues. It’s all very well knowing that you’ll be okay 15 years on, but I wanted to know I would be able to handle things in the short term and even to hear it from someone else who was doing okay.
I set up an online campaign, asking people to anonymously submit their letters to the website. We have a Facebook, twitter, instagram, youtube and a website too! I’ve carried on the social media channels as the project is just so collaborative, that I regularly share where we are in the process and what’s going on.
The editorial process was harder than I’d thought it would be for this book. It’s so different to a normal book where you can chat to an author and work any spelling/formatting issues in the text out with them and the importance of keeping everyone’s voices in each of the letters was key. I made sure to only correct typos and small spelling mistakes, as I thought that playing around with grammar and sentence structure would take the people out of their letters. As a result all of the letters are incredibly varied and hopefully, show each person behind them too!
What were some of your favorite comments or insights from the participants?
My favourite part, by a long way, was the kindness and love people showed their younger selves. One of my favourite quotes is someone telling their 16 year old self ‘You are my hero’.
There’s no hesitation about calling their younger selves pretty or handsome or strong. I think people are so reluctant to think about themselves in such a positive light, so it was amazing to see them being so openly caring to themselves.
There are so many great books out that explore mental health during the teen years. What are some of your favorites?
For research for the project, and also just because I love reading YA, I read so many fab mental health related books. My favourites are Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.... The Holly Bourne Spinster Club series is great and The Rest of us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, too.
What I like about so many of these, is that the mental health issues aren’t the main storyline in the books. They’re a part of the characters sure, but not even necessarily a defining feature. They’re just something going on in their lives, and I think that’s really important too.
What do you hope the readers of Hello Me, It's You will take from reading the collection of letters?
I really hope that the readers will realise how common the full spectrum of mental health issues are. They’re definitely not alone in experiencing what they are, and it doesn’t have to be scary if they’re diagnosed with any of these things.
What's the best piece of advice you received as a teen?
Oooh this is a hard one. I want to offer something earth shatteringly profound, but to be honest I think I'll keep it simple (as that stuff can really help too). I think it was to find something that calmed me.
If you’re aware of things that help soothe you and calm you down, then when everything feels like it’s falling down around your ears, or when I feel a panic attack coming on, it’s comforting to have something to turn to. I’m getting really great at concentrating on my breathing, when there’s a super stressful situation, or slowly drinking a cup of tea. My favourite thing to calm me down and take me away will always be to read a book, but it’s super helpful to have smaller backup plans that you can use on the go.
Thanks so much for sharing your work and words with us, Hannah. Hello You, It’s Me is available now so be sure to check it out!
Hello Me, It's You
by Hannah Todd
Published: October 10th 2016 (on World Mental Health Day!)
“Keep smiling and being you. Don’t let the world change you”
Hello Me, it’s You is a collection of letters by young adults aged 17-24 about their experiences with mental health issues. The letters are written to their 16-year-old selves, giving beautifully honest advice, insight and encouragement for all that lays ahead of them.
This book was produced by the Hello Me, it’s You charity, set up by the editor, Hannah. Hannah was diagnosed with depression and anxiety whilst at university and found comfort in talking to friends about their experiences, realising she was not alone in her situation. This inspired the idea for the charity and book. Through the creation of materials such as this, the charity aims to provide reassurance for young adults (and their families) who are experiencing mental health issues and give a voice to young adults on such an important topic. The result of that will hopefully be a reduction in the negative stigma surrounding mental health and an increase in awareness of young people’s experiences. All profits go the Hello Me, it’s You charity, for the production of future supportive books.
Trigger warning: Due to it’s nature, the content of this book may be triggering. Contains personal experiences of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, trichotillomania and other mental health issues, as well as issues such as assault.