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A Book as a Helping Hand

Tuesday 27th Jan 2015

Danielle Culling

A Book as a Helping Hand

Some topics are really hard to talk about. That is when a book can step in to help us all out - explaining what we can’t always make clear. We can read and then re-read if we need to, highlight passages that speak directly to us. The always wonderful Alan Bennett pinpoints this to perfection when he says:

“The best moments in reading are when you’ll come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone who is even long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

Many find mental health a really difficult area to open up about, despite the fact that 1 in 4 of us will suffer at some point from a mental health problem, it can still hold great stigma. Books do us a real service in this area. When somebody is suffering from an ailment such as depression it can be incredibly difficult to describe what is happening, the feelings inside. The nature of the illness means that often clear thought and even speech can become a real toll, as your body tells you to hibernate away from the world and preserve what little energy you have.

Having come across a gem of a book here at Mr B’s it has inspired me to pull together a list of excellent books that all look at mental health in some way and that I hope can be of some help to those that suffer from its effects, either themselves or when caring for a family member or loved one.

The book that inspired me is called ‘Living with a Black Dog’ by Matthew Johnstone (Little Brown, £8.99). Inspired by Churchill’s infamous ‘black dog’, the book has beautiful illustrations alongside text explaining how depression feels, the different stages, what can be done to help, what not to say and how to support yourself/somebody through the careful steps back to health. I was absolutely captivated by the illustrations, they capture the numbness and pain in ways that words are sometimes not able. I think it is a beautiful book that would be really useful to anybody wanting to better understand the condition.

Another great read which looks at a life with manic depressive illness (or Bipolar Disorder) is ‘An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness’ (Macmillan, £9.99). What makes this such an interesting read is that the author, Kay Redfield Jamison, was herself an academic in medicine when she was first struck by Bipolar Disorder. Many assumed that somebody so ‘together’ who understood this illness could somehow avoid it ever knocking at their own door. It is an eloquent, powerful book that I would recommend to anyone, whether or not they had a personal need to read around this subject.

For a history of mental illness and how treatments have changed over the years, I can highly recommend ‘Mad, Bad and Sad’ by Lisa Appignanesi (Little Brown, £14.99). The books focus is on women’s health. This does seem a slightly one-sided approach to the history, however until recently a majority of cases reported related to women, not because men weren’t also suffering but because society put pressure on men not to go to a doctor with such complaints but simply to ‘man up’.

These are just a few of the great books out there that can be that additional helping hand. If you want to see some more options, that approach mental illness from all angles (including some which give techniques to maintain good mental health), please click here for a list of others that we would recommend.

Common practice from Doctors and Mental Health professionals is to be wary of any triggers that could cause a flare up of a condition. If at any point you are reading and notice a trigger for you, it is advised to put the book down and come back to it when you feel like you can manage it.

Here are some useful organisations and numbers to have on hand if you need them:

http://www.samaritans.org/      - 08457 90 90 90

http://www.mind.org.uk/           -  0300 123 3393 OR you can text 86463

A Book as a Helping Hand

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