Support through the mental health storm

By Casey Neill

Monika Schott couldn’t find the right story to explain mental illness to her children – so she wrote it.

She started ‘My Dad built me the best and wackiest cubby ever’ almost 15 years ago.

Monika’s brother first became mentally unwell about 30 years ago and was institutionalised, his family unsure if he’d ever be released.

“My first son was born the year my brother first came out of hospital,” Monika said.

She went on to have two more sons.

“They all grew up seeing the strange behaviours from my brother,” she said.

“I explained it to them in the simplest way I could.

“He was schizophrenic, paranoid, and depressed. He would lock himself up in his bedroom for most of the day because he thought there were cameras following him.

“My children saw all that. They understood it.”

Years later, her then-husband became depressed when her eldest son was aged 9.

“They knew something was wrong but they couldn’t see it,” she said.

“That’s the thing with mental illness.

“I knew I had to talk about it with them before they started making their own assumptions.”

When she sat them down, her eight-year-old started crying and revealed he feared a repeat of his uncle’s experience.

“I tried to explain to them the complexity of the brain and how we need chemicals in our brain to be balanced to be working properly,” she said.

“The boys were really patient with their father.

“They’re really understanding and compassionate. I think that came from the adversity.”

At the time, Monika sought resources to help her to support her boys.

“My own children loved reading. We were always looking for different books to help us talk about different things,” she said.

So she wrote her own story. Publishers found it too confronting at the time.

“The others I found, they were lovely stories, but that was it – they were lovely stories,” she said.

“They danced around the topic rather than being honest or real about what was going on.

“You can’t insult kids.

“They understand, and they need to understand.

“If they start to learn about mental health early, it helps them better manage their own mental health and be more compassionate with those suffering with poor mental health.”

‘My Dad built me the best and wackiest cubby ever’ follows a father and child as they set out to build a cubby in the sunshine, using the weather as a metaphor for mental ill health.

Clouds snake in, a storm brews, rain pours down, and blue skies return, all while the cubby grows wackier.

Leading psychiatrist Professor Patrick McGorry launched Monika’s book.

“As a parent, I wish I had this book many years ago,” he said.

“There is still a lot of stigma around mental illness but things are definitely getting better.

“But every one of us will have somebody in our family that will suffer from periods of poor mental health.

“Monika’s book is a way for younger children to learn about mental illness in a very optimistic and positive way.”

The book includes resources for teachers, carers, and families. Visit