Lisa Allen-Agostini on Support, Treatment, and Breaking the Silence | Middle Grade & Mental Health

The author of Home Home stresses the importance of openly discussing mental health issues and offering hope to young people experiencing anxiety and depression.

Home Home (cover), Lisa Allen-Agostini portrait, and childhood photo

Content warning: suicide   

Lisa Allen-Agostini's novel Home Home is about a young girl who attempts suicide and is then sent from her home in Trinidad to stay with an aunt in Canada and acclimate to new surroundings while trying to understand the circumstances that put her there.  Allen-Agostini, profiled in SLJ's feature "Not OK? That's OK: Middle Grade Authors Provide Compassionate Portrayals of Mental Health," discusses her struggle with depression and anxiety, the dangers of silence around mental health, and the importance of treatment and support. 

What drew you to writing about a character with mental illness? Why does this subject matter?
I struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life, attempting suicide for the first time at age 17. I wasn’t diagnosed or treated until I was in my 30s. In my family and my country (Trinidad and Tobago), mental illness is not talked about, which is I think quite damaging and isolating, especially to children and teens who may have mental illness. Without knowing that other people endure the same feelingsand that there is treatment that can helplife can seem unbearable.

What kinds of interventions, treatments, support, and therapies take place in your book?
Kayla is hospitalized and put on an SSRI  [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor] in Trinidad after her suicide attempt. When she moves to Canada, she starts seeing a psychiatrist and begins psychotherapy. Her Trinidadian doctor recommends she comes off social media, and her Canadian doctor adds that she should exercise and do things she enjoys in addition to staying on her medication and journaling about her feelings.

Tell me about the effects mental health has on the main character, their family, and those around them.
Kayla feels isolated and disconnected from her mother before the suicide attempt. She has struggled in school because of her anxiety disorder. After the attempt she’s taken out of school and sent away to another country (ostensibly to recover, but really to hide the shame as mental illness is not talked about in her home country). During the book she has a depressive episode and stays in bed for several days while her Canadian aunts try to cope with her condition. Her best friend KiKi supports Kayla with encouraging words to counter Kayla’s negative self-talk.

What is the most challenging part of writing about these topics for middle grade readers?
Honestly, the most challenging part of it was getting adults to accept that kids also suffer from anxiety and depression. I’ve done readings for young people, and they almost always say they either have felt, or know someone who has felt, many of the same feelings as Kayla.

How did you balance depicting the reality of living with mental illness with the important message of hope?
Kayla is surrounded by friends and relatives who remind her that she is loved, important, smart, and beautiful. They accept her illness and support her recovery with patience and love. This is where she finds her hope.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?
I would like them to know that a mental illness diagnosis isn’t the end of the world, that life can go on, that they can form and keep meaningful relationships, that treatment can help, and that things are not always going to be awful.

What do you hope to see explored more in middle grade books that deal with mental health?
In communities of color, and in poor communities, mental illness is often not acknowledged. More books and stories about people from those communities are needed.


Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing