Studying a PhD whilst writing and publishing a children’s book about mental health. This is the life of Katie O’Donoghue, an individual with a background in psychology who has delved into the world of publishing through wellbeing and mental health.
The Little Squirrel Who Worried: A Children’s Book About Mental Health
Katie O’Donoghue, a PhD student exploring psychological wellbeing and heritage, is no stranger to understanding wellbeing and mental health. “The reason I applied for the PhD was because when I was going through my own fine art degree I explored my own sense identity and connection of heritage,” said Katie O’Donoghue.
O’Donoghue’s PhD has not been a smooth sailing ride. The covid-19 pandemic has halted the world, including O’Donoghue’s journey. Thus, she was given an extension due to the pandemic. She was also one of the many brave and commendable individuals who worked for the NHS during the pandemic.
“I was given an extension due to covid. For the last year I was working in CAMS for the NHS. The height of the pandemic made things very busy, now I’m back on track!”
How the book came to be and its story
While working in CAM for the NHS, O’Donoghue’s idea started to come together. It also stemmed from an illustration she created: “I ended up drawing the red squirrel to feel closer to home and nature, once I created this character, I thought I’d write a book about it.”
The book is written in a manner which appeals to children. Mental health and wellbeing are difficult subjects to talk about in general, even more so when it involves children. However, this is a dialogue that has started to open up, slowly but surely. O’Donoghue’s approach was no different, as she wanted to create a narrative that was child-friendly. “It is explained in child-like terms, child-friendly language.”
Using animals as characters, O’Donoghue tells a story about Little Squirrel who overcomes anxiety. Little Squirrel hasn’t left his nest since autumn, however, along the way Little Squirrel meets a variety of other animals.
Little Squirrel meets Wren the Bird, Snuffly Hedgehog, Grey Rabbit, Mister Fox, Old Badger and Great Stag. Each character provides support in different ways for Little Squirrel, who realises that he has friends in the forest who will support and be there for him.
Positive feedback and a second book on the way!
Following the book’s release, its feedback has been nothing short of positive. In November 2021, it was listed by The Irish Times as a recommended book for children at Christmas. Additionally, O’Donoghue shared that she has received loads of amazing feedback from school teachers and children. “I’ve had a lot of amazing feedback from teachers! I’ve been amazed that children as young as four will take away something from this story.”
In even more good news, O’Donoghue revealed that she is producing a second book. “I have actually started a second book! I’ve started a book which is more for 8 to 12 years old. It’s about supporting children’s mental health.”
With all of her wonderful wisdom, O’Donoghue sounded off with some wise words, coming off the back of these two challenging years. “We have the core things we need: self-care and connections with others. What I have learned is how important our connection with others is, being supported and heard by others. We have lacked that for the last two years. That social element has been missing and it is so important for our lives.”