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Bex and Craig's project: Aroha's Way

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Aroha’s Way is a beautifully-illustrated children’s book about how to manage anxiety.

Last year, Bex Lipp and her co-creator Craig Phillips won a Mental Health Media Grant or Pūtea Pāpāho to create this pukapuka (book). Written and illustrated by Craig, the book takes inspiration from the Te Ao Māori worldview and will be translated into Te Reo by Stacey Morrison.

We caught up with Bex on what winning a Media Grant was like for her and Craig.

Q: Tell us about Aroha’s Way.
Aroha's Way is a children's picture book about the four feelings associated with anxiety: nervousness, fear, worrying thoughts and apprehension. 

Aroha shows young readers how she wards these emotions off with simple yet effective tools that everyone can use.

Q: How did you and Craig dream up Aroha’s Way?
When I received the Mental Health Foundation’s email about applying for creative grants, I pitched an idea to Craig about doing a children's book about anxiety.

I simply provided Craig with the four feelings and then the matching tools to help manage them. From there he wrote the beautiful poem that became Aroha’s Way.

Q: How have your personal experiences with mental distress helped to develop the book?
Both Craig and I have anxiety, and I’ve had my own personal experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), clinical depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide attempts.

The parent and teacher notes at the back are tools I learnt through two years of cognitive behavioural therapy to help me get through difficult times.

Q: There are many Māori motifs and words in Aroha’s Way, and Aroha herself is Māori. Why was including Māori elements important to you?
As I come from a diverse family myself, I wanted my cousins' children to see themselves in our books.

It was important to me personally to have a Māori girl seen as a positive role model for our tamariki. 

Q: How does Aroha’s Way reduce discrimination against mental distress for children?
This book helps to reduce discrimination by opening up conversations about difficult emotions  and creating understanding that children experiencing those feelings aren’t odd or difficult – these are normal things to feel and experience and there are things we can all do to help.

I found my personal mental health struggles very isolating, like no one else knew what I was experiencing. Aroha shows our children that you can do things to empower yourself to lessen the impact of difficult emotions.

Q: How have people reacted to Aroha and the book, and how has the book been used?
We have been blown away with the success of the book!

Our initial print-run sold out in just over three weeks! We have received lots of comments about how parents wished they had a book like this when they were little, and how it helps them to start conversations around these emotions with their children. 

Parents have told us that the belly breathing Aroha does in the book has helped children who have anxiety, and has reduced the length of their anxiety attacks, which is just amazing.

We have also sold a lot of copies to teachers and kindergartens. 

Q: How did you find working with the Media Grants team to develop Aroha’s Way?
Being able to work alongside Like Minds, Like Mine and The Mental Health Foundation team was just awesome. It was like we had a new team helping us along the way with things like translations and helpful information to include.

Q: What would you tell someone who is thinking of applying for a Grant?
Absolutely do it! Give it a go.

Hearing we had won a grant was so amazing and has helped us positively impact children across Aotearoa.

Register your interest for the next Mental Health Media Grants round here.