My Life in the Fish Tank -- Book Review and Teen Mental Health Resource Round-Up


Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Do you know that 50% of mental illness start by age 14 and 75% by age 24? (Source) How about approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States suffer from mental health issues?  That's about 43.8 million people and nearly 40% of them do not seek any treatment or help. (Source) And then add in the pandemic and how things have gotten worse for people's mental health. There is a lot going on here. There is a stigma around mental health issues. People don't like to talk about it and many don't want to get treatment for it in fear of being shamed. It is something we need to talk about and we need to educate the next generation about it and what resources there are to help with treatment so we do not continue this stigma. Let's face just about everyone would take medicine for diabetes or cancer, but many people are ashamed to take antidepressants or antianxiety medicines or even seek therapy. Today's novel is about one middle school girl and her family's experience with a bipolar disorder in the family. The book is My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee. It is being released next week! (We have also had the pleasure of reviewing another of Barbara Dee's books which we categorized as a must read for all middle schools.)

When twelve-year-old Zinnia's older brother gets diagnosed with bipolar disease her family life is turned into chaos. First there is the not knowing for Zinnia, her older sister, Scarlet, and younger brother, Aiden. They know Gabriel was in a bad car accident but their parents are not letting them see him or really know what is going on. Then when they finally tell them they ask them not to tell other people. In fact Zinny hears her mother lie about how Gabriel is doing rather than admit he is in a rehab center. Her friends don't know what to do but feel like Zinny is not wanting to be with them since she never seems to want to talk anymore. The only place that seems normal is her science teacher's lab. Zinny tries to escape there at lunch. Then there is the invitation to the lunch club at school. Should she go? One of her friends tells her not to because it will be boring and filled with weirdos. But Zinny feels guilty and when the science lab isn't open she goes to check it out. They share secrets there but would if Zinny isn't ready for that. After all her parents said they shouldn't talk about Gabriel and his problems. Why does it have to be a secret? She just doesn't get it. Plus she has started doing most of the cooking and watching out for her younger brother. Her parents seem to be only focused on Gabriel and are letting the household fall apart and the other kids fend for themselves. How can things go back to normal and when?

Things I love about this book are that it deals with the stigma. Her parents tell them not to talk about it but when Gabriel finds this out he asks them if they are ashamed of him. It talks about the confusion the other kids have because of the parents request and their secretive nature. It talks about treatment for Gabriel but also that each of the family members have needs to treat as well. Scarlet goes to a therapist but the other kids do not. The parents join Gabriel for family therapy at the rehab center but Zinny has to watch Aiden who is too young (8-year-old). Zinny is living in two worlds where she feels like she doesn't belong. She is just trying to keep her life as normal seeming as possible outside the home and at home trying to make Aiden's life as normal as possible. Um, wow! She basically is being a tween and a mother at the same time and is totally confused. This book is powerful and it is a great opening to discuss mental health and give kids resources on what they are and how to get help.

I did some searching for resources. Here are some sites to check out.
1) National Alliance on Mental Health has wonderful explanations and resources including infographics like this one with the ten common warning signs and how to get help.
2) Erika's Lighthouse has free resources for anyone who signs up (it is free). There are videos and all sorts of classroom resources as well as empowerment club resources and teen and parent toolboxes. 
3) ReThink Stigma has a place to sign up as a school for social-emotional learning curriculum as well as more resources!
4) On Our Sleeves has resources to find help for a child in the U.S.
5) Teen Mental has explanations about different mental health disorders including bipolar disorder. It also has many resources for teens and parents as well as links for support. It even has ideas for staying connected through Covid. Be sure to check it out. 

I hope you will check out this amazing and powerful book next week when it is released and start the talks with our kids about mental health!