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The Geometry of Mental Illness

By Kathleen Vogtle, NAMI Communications Coordinator

Happy Circle and Friends

By Dr. Geoffrey Phillips


Resources for educating children about mental illness are often few and far-between. After all, it is a topic that even adults have difficulty comprehending. The greater tragedy, though, is that children often feel the effects of mental illness most keenly.

Dr. Geoffrey Phillips has helped fill this need through his Happy Circle trilogy. Each tackles a different emotion commonly associated with mental illness: anxiety, sadness and anger.

Happy Circle Meets Anxious Egg considers the nature of an anxious mind. Anxious Egg was once a happy circle before cares and worries weighed him down and shaped him into an egg. The book explores the old adage that ‘a burden shared is a burden halved.” Support can be provided by many people and in a variety of ways, such as sharing troubles with family and friends, participating in online discussion groups or finding peer support. Happy Circle provided this support to Anxious Egg, allowing him to become a happy circle once more.

Happy Circle Meets Sad Triangle will likely resonate keenly with those who have been affected by depression. Much like Anxious Egg, the sad triangle was once a happy circle. Her sad angles were created by self-deprecation, unease about how others people perceived her and the certainty that these feelings will never go away. Sad angles do not go away all at once and the ending of Sad Triangle reflects this. But as Happy Circle suggests, “…if you think of only NOW, only today… not tomorrow, not the future, only today… that stops one Sad Angle.” With one of the angles removed, Sad Triangle becomes what Happy Circle calls a ’Circangle,’ which looks “’OK’… and soon will be a Happy Circle again some day.”

Happy Circle Meets Angry Cloud reviews three aspects of life that are commonly met with anger: unfairness to self, injustice in general and emotional hurt. The threatening presence of the cloud, with its “…booming thunder and bolts of lightning” is an attempt to keep others away.  Research conducted by the University of Iowa and Boston Children’s Hospital, among others, has suggested that internalizing these emotions can lead to depression or anxiety. Angry Cloud reveals this internalization, but Happy Circle is quick to remind that talking about these emotions can make the clouds dissipate.

The Happy Circle trilogy is, as Phillips writes, “for all ages and all brains.” Adults will find the effects of mental illness explored in deceptively simple yet poignant terms. Children will reach a better understanding of what their family member or friend is experiencing and how to help them. But young or old, the trilogy is an excellent means to decrease the stigma of mental illness.

Copyright Date: 02/06/2014

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