Bipolar UK ambassador Esther Marshall writes about how she wants to honour her sister's legacy and make a difference to the lives of others.

For eight years I worked in the corporate roles – starting on a graduate programme and working my way up the company in roles that fit to my purpose – making the world a better place. I ensured all roles that I had within my time there made a positive social impact. I worked in roles such as sustainability, innovation, equality and diversity and inclusion ending up as the Global Lead for Gender Diversity.

Gender representation in children's books

However, two years ago something changed. I became a mum for the first time and I suddenly saw the world through my baby’s eyes and I wanted him to know that his mum could do just as much as his dad and that he would meet women in his personal and professional life who look different to his mum and he should respect them and learn from them.

There was one issue - In most of the stories I was reading to my son there weren’t many strong female protagonists. I wanted my son to grow up understanding that both boys and girls can grow up to become anything they want, regardless of gender. I decided if I couldn’t find enough of the stories I wanted to read to my child, I’d better write one myself!” So Sophie Says I Can I Will was created and was the first book in the Sophie Says children’s book series. This tells the story of a young girl who is so excited about the possibilities of her future that she leaps out of bed to share all of her ideas with her parents.

Written to inspire other young girls and boys about the direction their lives might take them whilst tackling stereotypes head on by showcasing incredible women in a whole host of roles, Sophie Says I Can I Will is a powerful and uplifting story of empowerment. The aim – to allow boys and girls to achieve their dreams regardless of gender, race, religion or class. My younger sister Rebecca, a phenomenal artist said she would do the illustrations and I would do the writing and it would be our joint project together.

It's okay not to be okay

For years she had suffered with her mental health. At the beginning of this 2020, I tragically lost my younger sister when she ended her battle with bipolar and I lost her to suicide.  Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay, the second book in the Sophie Says series was written as my way of healing, with the book poignantly dedicated to my sister. I so desperately want the next generation to understand the importance of looking after their mental health and speaking about their feelings.

After launching this book in memory of my sister I kept thinking of the many times when I was sat in the middle of the mental health ward in hospital with my sister and she turned to me and said “Esther, why were we chosen to grow up with privilege and opportunities that many don’t ever get. Why do some children get dealt a different story?” Before I could answer she said “it’s because I know that we will use that privilege for good and to make a positive difference to others”.

Since the day she passed I haven’t been able to get those words out of my head. So, I handed in my notice to the corporate I was working at and I have now started a new chapter of creating a legacy for Rebecca both through the book for the next generation and as a mental health advocate and activist trying to speak out about mental illness and make systemic change so we can stop other families loosing family members to mental illness.