“It will be a time to celebrate, to share stories and to feel the support of the community,” said Legault-Donkers, who was raised by her paternal grandparents Joanne and Leo Donkers, of St. Thomas, since her mother's death.
Legault-Donkers was diagnosed with severe major depression, generalized anxiety and social anxiety at age 13.
Her books, one each on depression, anxiety, ADHD and bipolar disorder, explain symptoms and provide tips for children, parents, teachers and friends on how to cope.
When Legault was first hospitalized and diagnosed, “it was a living hell.”
“There was so much stigma,” she said.
“I felt alone. I didn't want to tell anyone.”
While increased awareness of mental-health issues – helped by advocates such as Olympian Clara Hughes, corporate initiatives such as Bell Let's Talk and tragedies such as the teen suicides in Oxford County, the group home death in London and others – have reduced the stigma, the lack of adequate funding for mental health care prolongs people's suffering, she said.
Released from the hospital with a diagnosis of severe major depression, and generalized and social anxiety, Legault-Donkers had to wait more than a year for a psychiatrist.
“Imagine if you had a broken arm, and they put the cast on, but told you they wouldn't have any one available to remove the cast or give you physio for a year. It would be ludicrous,” she said.
Even in crisis, people with mental illness are turned away at emergency departments. Legault-Donkers has to pay out of her own pocket -- $170 a visit – every time she goes to see the clinical psychologist, visits that are key to her coping strategies.
The lack of appropriate care and supports keeps people with mental illness isolated in their own suffering, she said.
“We have to do better.”
Legault-Donkers is doing her part. She wrote her books based on her own experiences and her research, had the manuscript vetted by health-care professionals including social workers and a psychiatrist, hired an illustrator, and paid nearly $15,000 to have the books published. She'll be donating some books to organizations that have helped her and others.
In the books, her loveable protagonists Zack and Zoey, help readers understand their symptoms, learn coping strategies and ways of helping friends and family respond.
If the books help someone, the investment “was worth it,” she said.
“Mental-health issues need to be important. That's why I wrote these books,” she said.
The event Aug. 27, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Pinafore Park in St. Thomas, will include face-painting and family-friendly activities, some brief comments from local advocates and the opportunity to get an autographed copy of Legault-Donkers's books. More information on the event is available on Zoey and Zack's Book Launch on Facebook.