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Book, DVD & app reviews

Our Work / Book, DVD & app reviews

We publish regular book or app reviews to highlight what's out there to read or learn about mental health and wellbeing. The books and apps cover a wide range of topics and issues and are reviewed by MHF staff and guest reviewers.

Give and take timebanking30 September 2015

Give and take: How timebanking is transforming healthcare

Boyle, D. & Bird, S. (2014) UK: Timebanking UK.

David Boyle and Sarah Bird's most recent publication, Give and take: How timebanking is transforming healthcare, tells real stories of individuals and medical practices who are using timebanking in the UK. There are lots of books on self-help – but how do you help the system which is designed to help people, and which is itself being crushed by the weight of demand? It turns out the answer is deceptively simple; “by releasing our greatest untapped resource – ourselves.

Give and take helps you understand the concept of timebanking through meeting people like Geoff from Blackpool, who has been better able to cope following his wife’s death because of his relationships with others in the timebank. These stories show how timebanking can be used to improve both individuals’ lives and the services that can assist them.

Isolation as bad as smoking

Recent research shows that isolation is as dangerous to health as smoking. Timebanking is a tool for community building which incorporates all of the Five Ways to Wellbeing by encouraging people to share their skills and talents in an equal time-based measure – one hour equals one hour. From chronic pain, to heart attacks, to depression, Give and take shows timebanking is linked to better outcomes.

Give and take is an incredibly engaging and easy-to-read account of the research. It provides anecdotal and statistical evidence showing the use of timebanking in health – and particularly mental health – delivers real results for the NHS, health service providers and centrally for the people using the services, whose skills, it turns out, are just what the doctor ordered.

The book not only recommends embedding timebanking into the health system but provides a guide for how to do it. The small steps taken in hundreds of small towns across the UK, and documented in Give and take, are fascinating and inspirational and show a way forward for ailing health systems.

This is an invaluable book for anyone aiming for better outcomes for patients or interested in the sustainability of the health system, as well as for individuals who have an interest in mental health and the idea of service users as co-producers of future health outcomes.

Reviewed by Genevieve de Spa, Ambulance Officer for St John, Timebank Co-ordinator and Masters student.

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section.


Beyond happiness cover23 September 2015

Beyond happiness

Seldon, A. (2015) Yellow Kite

Beyond happiness has a wonderful combination of theory, personal experience and how-to steps, providing layers to the conversation about reaching personal joy. The main objective of the book is to help you notice and re-claim your song inside, to uncover it, and help lead you to ultimate joy. This comes from the Henry David Thoreau idea that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them”.

Seldon promotes the theory of positive psychology which claims “that it makes sense to study what is right about people in addition to what is wrong”. The term was coined by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1950, and Seldon wishes to focus on this concept for people to reach joy, a deeper and richer fulfilment of life.

Understanding the meaning of happiness

Seldon does a wonderful job in using the words you know (pain, happiness, pleasure) and asking you to truly understand the meanings for each word and be mindful with your usage of them. He supports his explanations with quotes an excerpts from literary work as well as religious texts from multiple backgrounds providing a wider understanding and greater cultural scope for anyone reading and wishing to reach personal joy. The concepts in the book are simplistic, but because of their simplicity, understanding each word and the concepts around them are complex and thought-provoking.

There were two sections of the book which stood out to me the most, one was understanding “to choose is to be human… the notion that we are mere victims is a product of incorrect and lazy thinking”. For me, this is one of the hardest levels of acceptance to overcome to reach joy, because it requires everyone to take responsibility of their actions and personal drive. Seldon explains the notion of victimisation is from “learned helplessness” and one way of combating this notion is positive self-belief.

The second is giving, “if we see ourselves as isolated individuals, then our focus might naturally be on ourselves alone”. Seldon explains that giving does provide happiness for the giver but it is not only that, giving is the simple understanding that when you are aware and take notice to then give to someone, you are reaching outside yourself and connecting with the people around you, spreading kindness and happiness.

Beyond happiness is an enjoyable read, simple in its writing, yet provocative in its concepts. I think someone who is seeking happiness, or someone who believes themselves to be happy, should read this book and continue to understand the levels of happiness and become mindful of their personal journey.

Reviewed by Kate Cherven, Fundraising and Communications Intern at the Mental Health Foundation.


 

16 September 2015

Great day at work coverGreat days at work

Hazelton, S. (2013) Kogan Page

As most of us spend, at least, a third of each weekday at work, Suzanne Hazelton, a coach, trainer and consultant who works to help people thrive at work, pored over the latest insights in positive psychology to create this guide, believing that if we try to improve our wellbeing at work, the positive benefits will spread into the rest of our lives.

The book is very easy to read, and for the most part you can dip into the chapters that you feel are most relevant to you. Hazelton reframes our idea of "success", and posits that there is no true success without happiness. It is for this reason she believes both employers and employees need to spend more time actively working to ensure the workplace, whatever it may be, promotes the wellbeing of everyone in it – when people feel engaged, involved and hopeful about the work they do, success almost inevitably follows.

Almost everything Hazelton says is backed up by references to major studies, the cumulative effect of which is meant to reassure us that there are some broad, fundamental truths to be uncovered even when we don’t feel that specific studies relate very well to us as individuals. The result is that the book reads somewhat like a very long lit review.

Troubled by endorsement of Felicia Huppert’s idea

I was troubled by the author’s endorsement of Felicia Huppert’s idea that government and mental health charities should not focus on improving the mental health and wellbeing of under-privileged people (who she refers to as "the lowest in our society"), but instead work to increase the wellbeing of the privileged, the idea being that this will then trickle down to those less fortunate. I found this theory simplistic and, as I read on, I realised this book is really written primarily for people in what the author calls “the higher levels of society” – people who have no real barriers to happiness except those they create for themselves. It is not a book for any one experiencing poverty, deprivation, family stress or violence, ill-health or any of the other myriad of reasons why some of us may not always have great days at work. 

However, I did find there were many useful pieces of advice in the book. I appreciated the real, practical suggestions for improving wellbeing at work, and have incorporated some into my own working life. The book has plenty of real-life examples to illustrate the theories the author is explaining, and I was particularly interested in the author’s take on the value of goal setting and how better communication with colleagues can improve your wellbeing. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but worth a read if you’re struggling to enjoy your work and would like some tried and true suggestions to enjoy better days at work.

 Reviewed by Sophia Graham, Senior Communications Officer, Mental Health Foundation


 

RealitySlap cover9 September 2015

The reality slap: How to find fulfilment when life hurts

Harris, H. (2011) Exisle Publishing

I think The reality slap nicely describes how miffed you can feel when you don’t always get what you want – but the slap can also wake you up to the limited ways you are thinking and responding.

Author Dr Russ Harris sums up the whole technique in a sentence: “Instead of running or fighting we can simply drop anchor, unhook from our unhelpful stories and make room for our painful emotions, and engage fully in doing something with purpose”. It sounds simple but Harris notes due to your busy mind it can be difficult to develop good self-awareness skills and moments of presence are difficult to sustain. But there is hope, as the moment you catch yourself, you are free, and every moment of practice makes a difference.

Getting lots in the smog

I like the description of the internal chatter resulting in you being lost in a smog and you lose connection with yourself, your life and world. I really enjoyed the chapter describing the “Not Good Enough goggles”, this made me realise I was often lost in a haze of discontent. Once I started taking more notice of my thoughts, I was amazed at how much energy and time I waste judging and making comment on myself, others and things I have no control over. It felt quite enlightening to identify something as unhelpful, and empowering to decide to let go.

I was inspired to purchase the MP3 downloads available with The reality slap, and there is also an extended section at the back of the book for those interested in further reading on acceptance and commitment therapy. I may not master all the techniques but I think from reading the book I have clearer self-awareness of what ingrained patterns of coping that are not so helpful, and that awareness is powerful in itself.

Reviewed by Kim Higginson, Information Officer, Mental Health Foundation.


Critiical psychiatry and mental health cover Crop2 September 2015

Critical psychiatry and mental health: Exploring the work of Suman Fernando in clinical practice

Edited by Moodley, R. & Ocampo, M. (2014) Routledge

A continual theme from this collection of ethno-psychiatry and multicultural mental health practices and policies is to understand mental health as a global topic. Don’t forget that no matter how global the concepts seem, they are generated from the community, the culture, and the people who hold all of these factors within themselves and their community.

This reminds you that though many people around the world experience mental health challenges at times, the reasons and the ways to provide support must be conscious of all factors which support positive mental health.

“Good mental health depends on many factors, but among indigenous people the world over, cultural identity is considered a critical prerequisite.” (p.231)

Kiwi connection

Critical psychiatry and mental health covers the work of Suman Fernando and how his work affects the global understanding of mental health through the world’s leading scholars and their research.

Within the many works there is a section called “Culture and mental health in Aotearoa, New Zealand” written, by Maori mental health consultant Wayne Blissett and the Mental Health Foundation’s CEO Judi Clements who worked with Dr Fernando during her time at Mind UK. Blissett and Clements choose some very poignant words from a Maori elder to highlight Fernando’s work as well as the work which New Zealand is striving for, “’he tino nui rawa o tatu mahi, kia kore o matu nui… We have come too far not to go further, you have done too much not to do more,’ (whakatauki spoken by Ta Himi Tau Henare, Kgati Hine, 1989)” (p.234). 

This book covers a vast scale of detail and study which is quite dense, requiring you to take your time on the discussions to grasp and contemplate the theory accurately. But the work which Fernando does, along with others who take his work and research to the next level within their countries and communities, is enthralling. I believe anyone who wishes to learn more about ethno-psychiatry as well as the concept of theories in current mental health would find this book very enlightening and captivating in its accounts and discussions.

Reviewed by Kate Cherven, Fundraising and Communications Intern at the Mental Health Foundation.


Release the Beast cover jpeg crop26 August 2015

Release the Beast

Zunde, R.S. (2014) Beatnik Publishing

“When I get mad, the beast boils in my bones, he stomps in my feet and roars in my mouth.”

In Release the Beast, Romy Sai Zunde explores children’s anger and frustration in a fun but clever way. The book could be a useful tool to starting the conversation about anger with a child.

The story follows a young boy, who goes through various stages of feeling angry, with the beast personifying his out-of-control, angry feelings. Being told to share toys with his little brother wakes up the beast. The boy describes all the imaginary things the beast would do. The illustrations are expressive, interesting and dramatic. After the beast is let out – “then I felt a little bit better”.

The book identifies that there can be lots of different triggers for anger and distress, like being told what to do, and feeling like you are being treated unfairly; “Grown-ups are naughty all the time, and no one tells them what to do”. As children are early in the process of developing skills and strategies to manage intense (and sometimes confusing) feelings like anger, it’s an important area for children to be able to talk about and understand.

Using the beast to identify anger

Viewing anger as a beast helps it to be discussed and therefore could help children to identify feelings of anger – an important first step in being able to self-manage emotions. Some of the metaphors and pictures might be a little complicated (and some a bit dark) for younger ones to understand – however the underlying message is still effective.

In a subtle way, Release the Beast touches on the brain’s inability to process information clearly when angry or distressed – “mummy yelled and yelled but the beast and I couldn’t hear a thing”.

The book finishes with the boy apologising and the mother having a conversation about her own anger and what her beast does when she’s angry and frustrated with different things. It’s an important ending, because it normalises anger as something healthy and human, which everyone experiences – even adults who, from a child’s perspective, often seem like they have everything under control and don’t have these challenges. It also suggests that honest conversations about challenges with others can help you feel better.

While Release the Beast doesn’t seem to offer clear strategies for managing feelings of anger, reading the book might open an opportunity for a conversation about anger, how it is a normal, important response and also how to express it in healthy ways.

Reviewed by Michelle Dendale, Information Officer at the Mental Health Foundation.


Oku moe moea The dream which is bigger than I am book cover19 August 2015

Oku Moe Moea – The dream which is bigger than I am

Hammond Boys, S. (2015) BMS Books

Oku Moe Moea is about a young Maori boy named Victory, who is faced with social and economic difficulties, yet finds his passion through art. The book focuses on the importance of the creative mind, and fostering the differences of individuals.

Beautifully written with the style of oral lore, Oku Moe Moea exemplifies the simplistic beauty of rural New Zealand. In the context of small communities, the book also depicts the hardships in which people face as society changes such as unemployment, crime, poor housing and toxic relationships. These troubles affect Victory and instead of seeking help, he continues to feel more alone and shuts himself away into his mind.

Victory feels isolated in his small town, because he was seen as different. Yet, you see how his world changes and he learns how to foster his love for art, while hiding it away from those who don’t support him or understand him. In just a few words, this book covers multiple complications of daily life, opening your eyes along with Victory’s, changing and learning as you go.

Oku Moe Moea illustrates how people are effected by hardship, loss, seclusion, family ties and love. With beautiful pieces of artwork throughout the book, this story will touch your heart, and help you see a different side of New Zealand than you perhaps have forgotten about or might have never known.

There is also a short film based on this novel to promote the children’s art clubs in New Zealand. To buy a copy of the book and/or view the short film to support this cause, please visit the website https://vimeo.com/ondemand/artiam/128440784

Reviewed by Kate Cherven, Fundraising and Communications Intern at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


519zNUTJJVL12 August 2015

Uncovering happiness: Overcoming depression through mindfulness and self-compassion

Goldstein, E. (2015) Atria Books

In Uncovering Happiness author and psychologist Elisha Goldstein explores some of the neuroscience behind what keeps a person stuck in a depressive loop and how to get unstuck. It's not promoted as a miracle cure to replace more conventional treatment, but more so as an accessible and empowering way individuals can help themselves through practising exercises to improve self-awareness. The self-help aspect of this book seems more suited to those experiencing mild to moderate depression or low mood, those experiencing severe depression might need extra support to work through the material.

Goldstein clearly explains what depression is and how the mind works so the reader can see how easy it is to drift into a low mood unaware. He explains that a depressed brain has significantly more activity in the right prefrontal cortex than the left prefrontal cortex. The right side is associated with avoidance, negative emotions and “stuckness”. With an inactive right prefrontal cortex, it’s harder to choose healthy behaviours and regulate emotions – so the cycle goes on. The left side is associated with approaching, positive emotions and resiliency. Goldstein suggests that as relapse prevention is about developing resiliency, and it is comforting that he notes you can help yourself by finding ways to actively stimulate and strength the left prefrontal cortex.

Activating that left side

There are five ways you can stimulate that left side, Goldstein calls them natural antidepressants: mindfulness, self-compassion, purpose, play and mastery. Mindfulness and self-compassion are key.  The science behind mindfulness shows that it can cut down on depressive relapse significantly.  Using mindfulness, you can develop your resilience as you become aware of your personal depression cues and negative unconscious thoughts. Often people who have been depressed have a low degree of self-compassion and are prone to critical thinking. Self-compassion is a skill that allows you to intentionally turn the volume down on rumination and activate the self-soothing states of the brain to provide an experience of safety, courage and resiliency. 

Goldstein encourages you to become familiar with your own depressive loop, where you can get stuck especially if you have experienced depression before, through learned helplessness whereby your thoughts and actions lead you deeper into a depressed state. Apparently, all of us have an automatic negativity bias whereby humans are highly attuned to the dangers and negative possibilities of life, to protect ourselves. Goldstein assures you even though depression occurs as a result of a combination of genetic and environment factors, it is not who you are – it involves a conditioned habit that your brain has learned, and that your brain can unlearn. Researchers call this ability to actively rewire your brain: neuroplasticity.

I loved this book it was very encouraging, and empowers you, allowing you, in your own time and at your own pace, to experiment with the ideas presented. It is easy to read and dilutes complex concepts to make them simple to understand. Uncovering Happiness is jam packed with bite-sized practical exercises and tools, that can be referred to time and time again. I came away primarily with a clearer understanding of how the mind instinctively works, and that at times this doesn’t work in your favour, and that there are ways you can actively work to readdress this balance.

Reviewed by Kim Higginson, Information Officer, Mental Health Foundation. 


Being Moral white5 August 2015

Being Mortal: Illness, medicine and what matters in the end

Gawande, A. (2014) Profile Books

Judging by the number of coffee tables I’ve spotted this book on recently, Being Mortal seems to be required reading for baby boomers, many of whom are still involved in the care of elderly parents. And in this era of unprecedented worldwide ageing, it is indeed a book that explores the important questions of inevitable mortality.

Surgeon, Harvard professor, staff writer for the New Yorker and 2014 BBC Reith lecturer, Atul Gawande, contends that life stories need to have, if not happy, at least dignified endings.

The first half of the book explores aged care in the US, with examples of brilliant initiatives and how they’ve been eroded, while the second looks at the dilemmas faced by doctors, families and patients, of managing bodily decline when there is no possibility of cure.

Less risk, more humanity

The irony of modern healthcare is that while people can stay alive for longer than ever before, longevity itself is prioritised over quality of life. Gawande concludes that society is not well-equipped to help people age with dignity and self-respect. The nursing home option is often pushed by the worried children of parents who “don’t want to be a burden” but who, with a bit more community support, could still function well enough in their own homes. Where institutions are necessary, Gawande argues that they need to be less preoccupied with risk and more about humanity.

When it comes to caring for the terminally ill, there are pitfalls in having too many choices of treatment. Doctors are often reluctant to give up, even in the face of the inevitable death of a patient.

An easy, excellent read

Gawande gives a moving account of his own father’s decline and death from the perspective of a family member, rather than that of a detached medical observer, as he helps his father (also a surgeon) to a peaceful death at home.
This précis doesn’t do justice to the depth and overall readability of Being Mortal. You also need to bear in mind that Gawande is writing about the US healthcare system where the interests of insurance companies often prevail over those of patients. That said, there are ideas and options that are relevant to New Zealand and its ageing population.

Discover more: http://tinyurl.com/kcjal5f

Reviewed by Auckland writer, psychologist and baby boomer Katherine Findlay 

 

 


Buddhdas Brain cover29 July 2015

Buddha’s Brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom

Hanson, R. & Mendius, R. (2009) New Harbinger Publications

“When your mind changes, your brain changes, too.” This might seem like a strange sentence, but while you wiggle your thoughts around its meaning, you realise that that is the whole point of this book. Buddha’s Brain is a wonderful combination of Buddhist concepts with the added explanations and reasoning of neuroscience, to enhance your life and relationships with others.

Neuroscience has recently discovered that the human brain is not fixed. A person’s brain doesn’t stop developing and changing after a young age, instead it continues to shift and create new aspects to itself throughout your life. This means that your mind and your thoughts are able to create change in the ways in which your brain works. This is fantastic! But how do you change your mind, to then change your brain? This is what Buddha’s Brain is all about.

Changing your mind to change your brain

Author Richard Hanson suggests focussing on and understanding two main questions: What brain states underline the mental states of happiness, love and wisdom? And how can you use your mind to stimulate and strengthen these positive brain states?

To guide you through the answers, the book follows along the path of awakening – to reduce any distress or dysfunction, increase wellbeing, and support spiritual practice. The book is divided in the traditional Buddhist teachings: understand suffering, then happiness, love and lastly wisdom.

Buddha’s Brain is a great book, focusing on Buddhist teachings while providing personal narratives from Hanson to explain concepts emotionally, and also providing the neurological reasoning and explanations behind what your brain is doing. This book provides a rounded description for all readers to comprehend and with meditation practices you can begin on your own.

Hanson organises the book amazingly and creates a wonderful manual for anyone wishing to change their thoughts and create a kinder understanding of yourself and your surroundings.

Reviewed by Kate Cherven, Fundraising and Communications Intern at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


22 July 2015

deep sleep

Sleep Deep for Children

Lawrence, L. (2015) Sleep Deep Ltd.

Sleep Deep for Children is a guided meditation book written by Auckland GP Leanne Lawrence to help children learn how to relax into sleep and develop a regular bedtime routine.

Lawrence sees the daily the effects of stress on health in her practice, and was encouraged by the emerging evidence behind the benefits of meditation and relaxation for wellbeing. She sees this progressive relaxation technique as a skill for life for children, with its beneficial effects cumulating with regular use. 

I particularly like the preventive aspect, and that this resource provides parents with an in-road to encourage and advise children of the importance of self-reflection and of looking after their wellbeing and energy levels.

Relaxation aides sleep, reduces stress

Lawrence’s technique is based on the principle that relaxation aids sleep and reduces stress in the body. The story telling aspect builds on a child’s confidence through encouraging them to reflect on the positive aspects of their day, and ways in which they are supported and loved.

My friend’s young children tried it out and initially they found it engaging, and seemed to relax and unwind. However, the kids lost some interest near the end when the images finish and the remainder of the book/video is for listening only.

I think over time if children repeatedly use this technique they will come accustomed to the trailing off of the pictures as a signal that it is time to close their eyes, let go and hopefully are lulled into sleep by the soothing voice.

As many children have nonstop energy and often only nod off when completely exhausted, this technique may give them a way to learn to relax not just into sleep, but to pause, reflect and rest their busy bodies and minds.

Lawrence notes it is intended for young ones aged three to seven, but as my friend and I found firsthand, adults can also benefit and may well nod off themselves.

You can purchase Sleep Deep for Children as a book/CD set from Lawrence’s website or try out the Vimeo for free.

Reviewed by Kim Higginson, Information Officer

 


All the bright places15 July 2015

All the Bright Places

Niven, J. (2015) Knopf Books for Young Readers

I wish I read All the Bright Places when I was 15 or when I was at university. Luckily, Jennifer Niven has finally written the book we all need.

The story is a simple. It’s about a girl and a boy, yet all isn’t what it appears to be. Violet is trying to understand the meaning of being a survivor while grieving for her sister. Finch is trying to do anything that keeps him awake and present in the moment. Together these teens work through all the complicated emotions which make life what it is, yet when you believe they are reaching a healing place, their lives spiral out once more.

This book beautifully illustrates what grief is and what power a stigma has. Instead of telling the reader how a character feels Niven is able to express the emotions which grip at your lungs and burn the back of your mind and throat, “She sighs, and I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s a sigh full of pain and loss”.

Physical sickness vs mental sickness

This is the first young adult novel that accurately explains the true feeling people with poor mental health are dealing with, “The fact is, I was sick, but not in an easily explained flu kind of way. It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting… just to make it simple for me and also for them”.

All The Bright Places is a book that will stay with you, it is a book that people want to talk about and should talk about. This book is for anyone who enjoys a lovely story, who has ever gone through depression, or has had a loved one go through depression. Niven wishes for readers to understand,

“Labels like ‘bipolar’ say: This is why you are the way you are. This is who you are. They explain people away as illnesses”.

This book doesn’t label, doesn’t give answers, and doesn’t know the reasons why; it exists so we can all understand and love.

Reviewed by Kate Cherven, Communications and Fundraising Intern at the Mental Health Foundation.


SAM app8 July 2015

SAM – Self Help for Anxiety Management app

University of the West of England: http://sam-app.org.uk

Smart phone apps are a convenient, readily accessible tool and for people experiencing anxiety who want quick guidance without the need for lengthy searching or taxing cognitive tasks in the heat of the moment, the Self Help for Anxiety Management (SAM) app is ideal. Developed by a university team, the content is accurate and based on current psychological models.

SAM is the most comprehensive anxiety app I have come across so far. It offers tools for assistance with anxiety in the immediate moment, such as breathing, mindful observing of pictures, and redirecting your focus, all of which are valuable techniques. Additionally the techniques are simple, clear, directive, and what is perhaps most appealing is that they are uniquely interactive. You can, for example, uncover pieces of a picture at a time by dragging your finger across the screen. Slightly longer term tools are also offered, such as increasing awareness of unhelpful thinking styles, questioning your thoughts, and self-care among many more. Granted, a number of these tools are very brief in their description and some could use a little more expansion (or space to type!), but an app is by its nature not a comprehensive resource, nor do the developers claim it to be one.

Great visual cues

Another excellent feature of this app is a brief four-part visual analogue scale for rating your anxiety and tension, worrying thoughts, unpleasant physical sensations, and avoidance. The anxiety tracker provides a visual summary of the your anxiety over time, enabling ongoing monitoring, an important component of change.

There are numerous additional features that add to this app’s appeal, including the ability to save favourite tools to your anxiety toolkit for ease of access later. Combined with the “things that make me anxious” section this has some of the makings of a mini staying well plan. The SAM app also has a social cloud area where users can interact. As with any form of social media, this can have its benefits and pitfalls, but you can choose whether to enter this area or not.

Overall, the SAM app is the most practical anxiety apps I have seen, and with the added benefit of it being university-developed, it is one I certainly recommend.

Reviewed by Dr Mieke Sachsenweger, an Auckland clinical psychologist.

 


Meditation now1 July 2015

Meditation now: A Beginner’s Guide

Reninger, E. (2014) Althea Press

From the creators of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Mindfulness Made Simple, this is a simple step-by-step guide to meditation for beginners who want to develop a regular practice. These 10 minute meditations can be fitted easily into your day and practiced when sitting, walking, eating or while doing yoga or other physical activities – even housework!

The first section introduces the basic meditation technique, then addresses possible obstacles, describes the benefits, and looks at common myths about meditation.

Part two gives detailed instructions for 32 different meditations involving a variety of techniques such as using a mantra or focussing on an object and suggests practical applications. For example “Flowing into the gap” meditation can be used to relieve stress when sitting in traffic, “Focus on rest” meditation can help those struggling with insomnia.

If you want to cultivate positive energy, deal with difficult thoughts and feelings, de-stress or improve your concentration there are meditations to suit your purpose.

With such a variety to choose from the final section gives guidance on how to select which meditation to use and provides three 28 day meditation plans and a plan for a full or half-day meditation retreat at home.

This is an easy to read guide to meditation filled with quotes and practical tips to inspire and motivate the reader.

Reviewed by Jo Beck, an Information Officer at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


anxietytoolkitcoversmall24 June 2015

The Anxiety Toolkit – Strategies for fine-tuning your mind and moving past your stuck points

Boyes, A, (2015) Perigree Books

What a great little book! I picked it up because the word toolkit indicated it might be more practical than wordy, and it is. The Anxiety Toolkit is divided into three sections – "Understanding yourself and your anxiety", "Overcoming your stuck points", "Where to next?" 

Chapters within these sections feature short questionnaires – to help you determine how a matter might apply to you, practical steps, and reinforced messages. This reinforcement is in a friendly, casual manner – not preachy. Actually none of the book is preachy, which along with its easy-to-read language and style, is its best feature.

Contributing to the book’s feel-good, uncritical style, is that author Alice Boyes tells readers first up that she suffers from anxiety herself and uses many personal examples. I was interested to learn about my own particular anxiety issue – procrastination.

There’s a chapter on that (and chapters also on letting your thoughts hold you back, paralysing perfectionism and fear of criticism) with steps to overcome it. I naturally said to myself that I’d get around to doing those steps one day. But then I was pleasantly surprised in part three to find my response acknowledged with gentle no-guilt-generating messages about how to counter it.

The author recommends this book be used as reference book, dipping into it when the tools are required. I am reluctantly returning this to the library and have already decided to buy a copy for myself.

Reviewed by Margaret Wikaire, Executive Assistant at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


Mindfulness how to live well by paying attention17 June 2015

Mindfulness: How to live well by paying attention

Halliwell, E. (2015) Hay House

Ed Halliwell has a list of impressive achievements to his name; he’s co-author of The Mindful Manifesto and works with UK Parliamentarians to bring mindfulness into public policy. But, to me, his personal writing style is a stand out.

He uses imagery to convey concepts that stays with you long after you finish reading the book. I can identify with the image of someone barely hanging on to a horse galloping along at a furious pace, with no idea where they are going. This book provides many practical tools to encourage you to take a closer look at how you react to events and emotions, and to take a wider look rather than focusing on immediate daily challenges. Perhaps taking time to slow down to a canter, and even rest your horse in a field, smell the flowers and as he states in the title, “live well by paying attention”.

Fighting change blindness

I found his discussion of the concept of “change blindness” to be a real wake up call. Change blindness refers to how common it is to zone out or be on autopilot. Halliwell tells of an experiment where the majority of people being served did not notice the changeover of the assistant helping them at a desk, even though they looked quite different from the first assistant. This makes me wonder what I could be unknowingly missing, besides the drive home on autopilot.

This book is considered; it does not overwhelm the reader, instead Halliwell advises you to not to be in a hurry to understand mindfulness. The chapters are bite-sized and he suggests taking a week to work through each one and its recommended practices, over a period of nine weeks. You also get a chance to see how the concepts can be adapted in real life scenarios through the journeys of five others. What really won me over was the generous font size and gaps between lines; effortless on the eyes how can you not relax into this book? Halliwell realistically advises there is only so much you can glean from a book and that face to face experience with an experienced teacher or group is vital to build a lifelong practice.

Mindfulness is a hot topic; there were multiple people who had reserved this book in the library. I would definitely put my name down on the list to read it again, it is a gentle but persuasive read.

Reviewed by Kim Higginson, Information Officer at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


Calming the emotion storm cover10 June 2015

Calming the Emotional Storm: Using Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills to Manage Your Emotions and Balance Your Life

Van Dijk, S. (2012) New Harbinger Publications

Emotional dysregulation means you react emotionally to some situations and your reaction is more intense than the situation warrants, and it takes you longer to recover from such strong emotions. After reading that, I felt like I had emotional dysregulation! But that is the point that Calming the Emotional Storm is trying to make; everyone has difficulties with their emotions, but there are simple ways to change your feeling of uncontrollable emotions.

Calming the Emotional Storm is a perfect book to outline and illustrate ways in restoring emotional stability by focusing on the four Dialectical Behaviour Therapy skills. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is formed from the basic premise that our emotions, thoughts and behaviours are all interconnected, but US psychologist and creator of DBT Marsha M. Linehan adds the concepts of mindfulness and acceptance to this idea. The book gives explanations along with exercises that the reader can use, creating more active learning.

I enjoyed the writing of the book; it’s very organised and well-thought out. The writing is simple which helps define complicated emotions that we all feel. It was a wonderful introduction to mindfulness while not focusing too long on the concept. This book is great to read through, but more ideal for having on hand in order to turn back and refer to its exercises when they are needed. The simplistic Zen Buddhist concepts are soothing to contemplate and simplistically difficult, a juxtaposed concept similar to our daily emotions.

The book doesn’t give the expectation of mastering mindfulness in 30 days, it gently reminds the reader that change takes time, and can be difficult in parts, but sometimes change is just about listening and getting to know your body. Understanding yourself can start with simply listening to your breathing.

Reviewed by Kate Cherven, Communications and Fundraising Intern at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


Out of time the pleasures perils of aging3 June 2015

Out of Time: The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing

Segal, L. (2014) Verso

I guess someone has to raise those niggling between-the-cracks questions about ageing, and who better really than Australian-born, UK-based feminist, writer and activist Lynne Segal? A baby boomer herself, she dissects the process of ageing, particularly for women, with formidable intellect, imagination and wit.

Segal’s aim is to discover “cultural narratives that we might draw upon to provide more nuanced thoughts on ageing” than those currently offered to us.

Drawing heavily on the psychological, political and personal writings of many famous writers on ageing, plus her own “looking into the mirror” experiences, Segal theorises that attitudes towards women that subordinated and negated them 40-odd years ago,when she first joined the Women’s Movement, have now been transferred to the elderly – at least in Western society.

Dim-witted arguments and selfish politics

She describes as “dim-witted” arguments that the “selfish” politics of the baby boomers have been to blame for the economic situation in the UK – arguments that are beginning to surface here in New Zealand as our population ages. She also reminds us that positive ageing strategies can serve the interests of neo liberal governments, and champions the ideal of interdependence over independence.

Segal is perhaps at her most interesting when writing about sex and desire in later life. She doesn’t quite buy the idea that unpartnered heterosexual older women who say they feel more liberated “post sex” are telling the whole truth. Somewhat ironically, given her focus on how the ageing female body is constructed as ugly and undesirable, Segal has personally solved the older heterosexual women’s dilemma by finding herself a younger, female partner.

It’s a slightly unsettling book in that it raises more questions than answers, and while there are some affirmations of ageing, readers may be forgiven for thinking that she comes out – at this stage of her life at least – a little more focused on the side of the perils.

Reviewed by Auckland writer, psychologist and baby boomer Katherine Findlay.

 


 

Sanctuary27 May 2015

Sanctuary: the discovery of wonder

Leibrich, J. (2015) Otago University Press

“I felt as if I did not belong to myself any longer: I had locked myself out of myself.”

So began Julie Leibrich’s pilgrimage within, to find and cultivate a safe, sacred inner space, and to recover after an overwhelming experience of depression. Finding a way to reconnect with herself and nurture her wellbeing is understood through the idea of sanctuary:

“I call it the space within my heart. It’s the place where I meet myself. It’s where I belong. It is where I find a sense of deeper connection – with myself, and with something beyond myself – a spirit greater than myself.”

Sanctuary: the discovery of wonder is an exploration of this spiritual relationship with herself and the world, and how it has supported her to live well. It is part conceptual framework, part spiritual memoir, part poetic contemplation and part self-help guidebook.

Though the book is deeply, generously personal, it’s not at all self-absorbed – the specificity and depth of Leibrich’s individual story illustrate ideas that have broad relevance. In sharing her own path, the author illuminates the way for others travelling similar routes.

Poetry, personal stories, lists and more

The book shares multiple ways in to thinking about sanctuary: through poetry, personal stories, structured lists, photographs, journal entries, etymology, metaphor, theory and theology. It dances between styles, like a brain following tangents and making connections around a central idea. Based on personal history and experiences, the book is a profoundly individual reflection on sanctuary, but not exclusively so – it’s woven through with reflections from friends and other writers about how the ideas relate to their own lives. And while Leibrich's own spiritual path has connected with Judaism and a Trappist monastery which has provided physical sanctuary, the book’s lessons are not specific to a religion or spiritual path.

I read the book in an eager rush over a long weekend, but it’s structured so that it can be read slowly and quietly, with time between short chapters for contemplation. Since hurrying through the book a second time, I’ve found myself dipping back into specific sections to revisit ideas or concepts.

The book’s structure offers a poetic and practical framework for creating, protecting and enjoying sanctuary. The introduction explores ideas of sanctuary, and shares some of how Liebrich came to realise the need to have access to quiet inner space. “Illuminating sanctuary” offers clues for connecting with experiences of sanctuary, through finding places to belong, people to love, time for oneself, and connection with mind, body and spirit. “Protecting sanctuary” shares tools for nurturing the sense of sanctuary, through cultivating space, solitude, silence, simplicity, slowness and stillness. The fourth section names some of the treasures that might be found within: mystery, meaning and miracles. Finally, an appendix compiles definitions and experiences of sanctuary shared by Leibrich’s friends.

Sanctuary: the discovery of wonder is generous, beautiful and rich with wisdom. Personally, it left me with a deep craving for quiet (translated the next day into a booking for a silent meditation retreat!) and a strong sense of the value of prioritising my relationship with myself.

Reviewed by Moira Clunie, Service Development Manager at the Mental Health Foundation.


Blues first week20 May 2015

First Week Blues

Greenslade, J. (2014)

First Week Blues is a perfect book to review for Pink Shirt Day as it teaches children about diversity and acceptance. In First Week Blues Jesse Greenslade tells a story of a time in our lives when we are most likely to be excluded because we go to a new place where we do not know anyone and feel different from others. The story reminds us that everyone has fears to overcome and sometimes need support to do so. This book has been reviewed from three perspectives; parent, child and a primary school teacher.

Mother and child – Kim Higginson and her son

As a mother whose son has not long been at primary school, I was interested in this book as I can see how classroom and playground dynamics really can impact on a young person’s self-esteem and sense of belonging. Its distinctive New Zealand flavour with native birds as main characters helps children instantly relate to the familiar setting. When the main character is teased, as in real life I felt the urge to micromanage and protect my son, and was tempted to dissect the story and offer advice on what the main character should do. Instead I allowed my son time to absorb the story, that naturally progresses to encourage the reader to reflect on the actions of the characters, and in turn themselves, allowing them to come away with some tangible learning.

My son has heard this story three times, which I think is a good sign as he normally only likes to hear a book once. He was focussed and interested in the story, and he particularly liked the main character Blue. He thought it would be a good book for a bully to read. After reading the story he could highlight what made him special (a prominent mole on his forehead) and what made him feel vulnerable (not liking water).

I think both mother and son were able to gleam some wisdom from this book, it particularly made us reflect on our personal reactions to the scenario the main character encounters, and it prompted some heartfelt dialogue.

Primary school teacher – Victoria Stevenson

I shared this picture book with my Year 2 class at Titirangi Primary, and we loved it! The children were impressed straight away by the bright and vibrant illustrations. They were quickly captivated by the story because it was easy for them to connect events with their own experiences. The children showed a lot of empathy for Blue when the other birds were laughing at and excluding him, and they were relieved when Blue was included by Pukeko.

From a teacher’s perspective, I enjoyed the rich use of descriptive language and the clear social message. It was very relatable for the children and they responded positively to the story.

The example of Pukeko thinking of a way to include Blue helped promote discussion about how to stand up for others. I also liked the dream sequences, where the children got to see that everyone has their own fears and vulnerabilities. I would definitely use this book again as a fun and effective way to promote important social messages in the classroom.

Reviewed by Information Officer at the Mental Health Foundation Kim Higginson and Titirangi Primary School Teacher Victoria Stevenson.

 


978192196669913 May 2015

Don’t think about purple elephants 

Whelan, S. & Jones, G. (2015) Exisle Publishing

Don’t think about purple elephants is a lovely picture book about a young girl called Sophie, whose night-time anxieties overwhelm her imagination, keeping her awake for hours and leaving her tired the next day.

I leapt at the chance to review this book because I’ve known a few anxious children. Recently I sat down with an eight-year-old and discussed the things that were on his mind. “What if there’s a tsunami,” he asked me, “and all my friends get swept away?”

“What if,” he said, with big, fearful eyes, “my mum gets busy at work and forgets to pick me up? What if I wear my uniform on a mufti-day? What if my friends don’t want to play with me tomorrow?”

Capturing the worries, big and small

Authors Susan Whelan and Gwynneth Jones do a beautiful job of capturing these worries – big and small – that play on children’s minds. With clever use of colour and black-and-white illustrations, they show that when you’re little, not having enough milk for cereal in the morning can be very troubling, and needs to be taken just as seriously as bigger concerns.

Like many of us who know anxious children, Sophie’s family try lots of ways to help her, and nothing works until her mother comes up with a cunning plan – worry as much as you like, but don’t think about purple elephants!

I really enjoyed this book. It’s simple, engaging and wonderfully illustrated. I felt that it showed adults the effect anxiety can have on children (and the need for us to do what we can to address it) without scare-mongering or ever actually using the word “anxious”! It’s a small book with a bigger message – when we work together and care for each other, our troubles will often subside.

Reviewed by Sophia Graham, Senior Communications Officer, Mental Health Foundation.

 


 

HardwiringHappiness6 May 2015

Hardwiring Happiness: The Practical Science of reshaping your brain and your life 

Hanson, R. (2013) Harmony

We have become more accessible with the increased use of communication technologies. Some days, it feels as if I have become the dog who keeps chasing its tail. I hardly take the time to embrace the good that happened during the day or struggle to find the time to take notice or connect.

Rick Hanson's book helps to build resilience and wellbeing and become mindful of what is going right instead of the wrong. He offers a scientific explanation and easy steps to rewiring our brain which still responds to basic surviving skills: fight or flight.

It provides the psychology as well as the emotional explanation of how the brain works. It gave me a better understanding of the basic three needs of the human response; challenge the basic assumption of ourselves. It requires active participation while reading the book to make a tangible change.

As someone who has experienced depression for years, learning to take in the good doesn't seem to come in naturally. The book, however, has given me a reason to take the deliberate steps in taking the time to think about the good and take it in.

Reviewed by Ivan Yeo, Information Officer at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


A prescription for psychiatry29 April 2015

A prescription for psychiatry: Why we need a whole new approach to mental health and wellbeing

Kinderman, P. (2014) Palgrave Macmillan

A Prescription for Psychiatry is an inside job. Author Peter Kinderman has written a manifesto for using the psychosocial model to address mental health in direct opposition to the alarmingly unhelpful disease model we have inherited. Kinderman draws battle lines between the biological approach to psychiatry, steeped in the medical tradition of pathogenesis, diagnosis and illness, and the social psychiatry model much more at home in understanding how life circumstances influence the way we make sense of and interpret the world. And Kinderman has some personal and professional insight into this debate; he is a practicing clinical psychologist, was twice the chair of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology, is a line-manager of psychiatrists, psychologists and GPs, is a sibling of someone with serious mental illness, and has himself used mental health services. Kinderman knows as much as anyone could know on the topic of mental health and illness, and his advice is plain: Drop the language of disorder and adopt a psychosocial understanding.

The prescription is reform

Kinderman says the determinants of mental health are largely the events and circumstances of people’s lives—for example, life events are far more predictive of future depressive episodes than genes associated with serotonin production. Kinderman also points to the rise of suicide following the global financial crisis, the association between abuse and mental illness, and the few studies that pit biological and social explanations head to head for explanatory variance (social explanations claim most of the variance in these studies). It is interesting to note that only two of the disorders in the DSM (PTSD and adjustment disorder) are directly ascribed to external circumstances, which draws attention to the fact that external factors are plainly omitted in every other diagnostic category our mental health system currently uses.

Personally, I find his model of mental health refreshing and accurate; while biology (nature) and events (nurture) are both inputs into our psychology, events are the overwhelming determinant. The brain as a learning organ constructs ways of seeing the world and interpreting events which produces psychology, which then goes on to influence behaviour, and mental health or mental illness somewhere on the continuum is the outcome. One of the most helpful analogies he uses is a reinterpretation of Plato’s’ dictum to ‘cut nature at its joints’, meaning that we should classify the natural world accurately. This has been taken too far, or applied where it should not, Kinderman argues, for instead of being a chicken, say, with clear categories and different parts, mental health is more of a sausage with far less clear joints and cut-offs. Vegetarians might not find this explanation as helpful as I did.

I also enjoyed the nod to Wilkinson and Pickett’s Spirit Level argument, but then I would as a social reformist at heart. They weren’t the first, but perhaps were the most empirically articulate, to point out mental health problems are highest among nations with the highest inequality. Kinderman is not shy in suggesting that social and political changes are likely to make much more of a difference overall than anything individuals can do alone.

No need to throw the baby out

But this is not all about throwing out biomedical science in favour of blind compassion—both approaches are required. And to be more accurate, a psychobiosocial model is called for, and a resulting collaborative, team approach, to care is prescribed. In a real show of maturity, Kinderman recommends that his own field take less of a leadership role in treating mental illness, in favour of having a collaboration of professionals from the biological (medical psychiatry), social (social and community workers), and psychological (clinical) approaches. Teams based in community settings would be most helpfully guided by GPs and family doctors—not psychiatrists—as they have more understanding of the ecology of individual life circumstances and who are best placed to determine what levers should be pulled to help intervene in the individual’s system.

The strapline for A Prescription is: why we need a whole new approach to mental health and wellbeing. To see as good a reason as any other for Kinderman’s prescription, we should be able to recognise the many benefits, but importantly the defined limitations, that the disease model provides.

“The need for reform in mental health services is acute, severe, and unavoidable”; to progress any further Kinderman recognises that disruption to the current system is necessary, which can either be led from within the profession of psychiatry itself, butchange must come nonetheless. 

Reviewed by Carsten Grimm, Mental Health Promoter, Mental Health Foundation.

 


 

Promoting public mental health and wellbeing22 April 2015

Promoting Public Health and Wellbeing – Principles into Practice

Brown, J.S., Learmonth, A.M. and Mackereth, C.J. (2015) Jessica Kingsley Publisher

Choosing this book to review from the Mental Health Foundation information service was an easy decision for me. Right from the introduction, the authors challenge the reader to answer the question: what creates mental health and wellbeing? Each chapter begins with key points to ponder and evidence and case studies to support the book’s underlying principles. These are part of the learned experience of most mental health promoters and the authors use the Ottawa Charter as a framework on which to base their strategic thinking.

The mental health strategy in the UK looks to all sectors of the population to work together to promote independence and choice, with six broad objectives as follows: more people will have good mental health; more people with mental health problems will recover; more people with mental health problems will have good physical health; more people will have a positive experience of care and support; fewer people will suffer avoidable harm and fewer people will experience stigma and discrimination.

What affects mental health?

These are outcomes that are also sought by New Zealand’s health services and are affected by improving the wider determinants of health throughout life. The second chapter asks what affects mental health and wellbeing and begins with examination of the wider social and physical issues.

Key points include: peace is an essential prerequisite for mental health and wellbeing; the impact of housing on mental health and wellbeing is increasingly being recognised as vital both as a cause of and a consequence of mental health problems; many studies have shown a strong association between access to green and open spaces and to nature, and better mental health; any approach to public health should address the challenge of sustainability; those with a mental health problem are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, particularly when it comes to violent crime. I found myself reflecting on the similarities between the key points and what Auckland Council is experiencing as the city grows. 

Suicide risk profiles similar to UK

The extended case study on the prevention of suicide and self-harm revealed many themes very similar to what we see in New Zealand. Those at higher risk of suicide in UK include men, young people and people aged over 85. Life circumstances associated with depression are likely to be linked to suicide. In this chapter, social services, primary care, accident and emergency departments, alcohol and drugs services and community-based mental health services figure among factors for prevention and treatment.
Other case studies look at what different sectors can do in relation to long-term conditions. The provision of equipment to aid self-management and independent living, with stair-lifts, access ramps, emergency alarms, mobile phones and TV are mentioned. The training of frontline staff to recognise long-term conditions and participatory interventions including social activity and support is highlighted for young and old people.

Lengthy read leads to self-questioning

These case studies, together with the preceding chapters, make this book, and its 50 references and subject and author index make for a long read and also much self-questioning on my part, as well as recognising a need to read many of the books listed.
I am concluding with an abbreviated description of an older woman known to the authors. She smokes and lives alone in a deprived area with little scope for recreational or safe walking. Social isolation is not unlikely; she is no longer going out to work and all these factors make her feel less happy or confident in herself and can lead to depression. The vicious spiral continues. It is harder to get a job when physical health problems adversely affect mental wellbeing but joblessness exacerbates mental ill health.

On the other hand, a positive spiral effect can emerge if action is taken. For instance, if the woman is befriended and gains the confidence to go out once a week, she may then start to gain social contacts and improve her physical fitness. In turn, this will make it easier for her to increase the amount of social contact she has. I recommend the book to people who want to promote the mental health and wellbeing of others and also enhance their own.

Reviewed by Marie Hull-Brown, Mental Health Promoter, Mental Health Foundation

 


 

 

15 April 2015

Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Well Being

Landscape and Urban Design for Health and Wellbeing Using Healing, Sensory and Theraputic Gardens

Souter-Brown, G. (2015) Routledge

Urban design is an area of interest for me; as well as having been on community park committees, taken landscape design courses and run main street refurbishment projects, I’ve just moved from way up north to the centre of Auckland. So I was really looking forward to reading this book and getting some positive reinforcement and ideas about the benefits of well-designed spaces for the health and wellbeing of the community.

My anticipation was rewarded but I was also disappointed. The book was preachy; paragraph after paragraph and chapter after chapter reinforced the same message of the health and wellbeing benefits of well-designed public spaces. I kept wondering, who was the target audience? The introduction says it is for “students and practitioners of design, health and education”. I get that, and it’s a worthy aim, but let’s not turn them away from the excellent message with too much preaching.

Getting past the preach

Fortunately I can report, once I got past the preachiness, I found a very interesting and informative book. The history of healing gardens, with references to Islamic and monastic gardens as having nailed the health-giving peacefulness of gardens, is thought provoking. And the discussion on school playground design that, of late, has minimal seating to encourage more physical activity but, in reality it has instead encouraged violent play.

The chapter on salutogenic design guidelines will be one of the most referenced and the acknowledgment of the limited budgets that communities usually have for these types of projects is refreshingly real.

Lists, bullet points and boxes may have made this type of book more readable than the large tracts of text, but it is broken by case studies and photos. The relevance of the case studies make interesting reading – but perhaps would have made more impact with more accompanying before and after photos.

This is a book that makes you dream of a world where nature comes first and development fits around it. It is the book that you wish all town planners, school boards and elected representatives would read – and that if they persist through the reiteration, they’ll learn the positive impact that they can have on the health and wellbeing of he tangata, he tangata, he tangata.

Reviewed by Margaret Wikaire, Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


YouthWRAPCover

8 April 2015

Youth WRAP: Wellness Recovery Action Plan

Copeland, M.E., with Elenes, L., Marquez, K., Cortes, A., Elenes, R., Alvarez, P., Roost, L., and Anthes, E. (2012) Peach Press

What a neat little parcel this 63-page soft cover booklet is. Not only does Mary Ellen Copeland explain the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) in a scant few pages, she manages to do it in a way that is easily understood by adults and teens alike – I know because my 14-year-old read the introduction and was able to tell me exactly what the concept was, who it was for and how it should be used.

The youth edition is written by youth for youth working with Dr Copeland – who created WRAP in 1997 – and Ed Anthes to better assist youth in managing their wellness and their lives.

Great pocket guide

It’s a great pocket guide that uses language, plans and activities that transcend its US origins, so that it applies just as much to an American teen as it does to a Kiwi one.

The contents contain an overall description of WRAP, how to get started with your own WRAP and how to develop a wellness toolkit. Then the next six sections are intended to be used to actually create your own plans using lots of checklists and to dos. There is a daily maintenance plan, triggers and action plan, early warning signs and action plan, when things are getting much worse and action plan, crisis plan and post crisis plan.

There is a final section on how to use WRAP in your everyday lives and it encourages plan makers to celebrate! Making a WRAP is suitable for anybody wanting to feel better, get well and stay well over time. It’s a sensible, non-emotive practical resource. I like it.

Reviewed by Susie Hill, communications consultant and medical writer 

 


 

Brainstorm cover large1 April 2015

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain

Siegel, D. (2014) Tarcher

“If I had to summarise in one word all of the research on what kind of parenting helps create the best conditions for a child’s and adolescent’s growth and development, it would be the term ‘presence.’” – Daniel Siegel, Brainstorm.

And there it is, a timeless reality, realised and expressed in diverse ways by all cultures through the ages. It’s a no-brainer really – if we are not present for our experiences and for experiences of significant others, then the likelihood of stress, dysfunction, misunderstanding and even serious mental health problems can increase. On the other hand, when we are present for the continuously shifting sands of such experience, we foster self-awareness, increase empathy, and promote an ever-deepening sense of integration.

There are three terms (self-awareness, empathy and integration) that Siegel uses a lot throughout Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, which seek to help both teens and adults better understand and navigate this intense time of change in the brain. It's a period where the brain is re-organising and seeking to integrate a great deal of development that has unfolded in preceding years.

Pushing the boundaries

Given Siegel’s analysis, it's no surprise most teenagers push boundaries in search of novelty. This is part of healthy brain development as young people look to explore their world more widely and to express ideas more creatively. Such exploration will involve some push-back against the rules and some turbulence as the nature of relationships shifts toward a focus on peers and in preparation for leaving the safety of the nest.

If there weren’t this drive (which occurs in other species as well), then what would be the motivation for leaving home, and what asks Siegel, would that mean for the diversity of the human gene pool? And all of this fuelled by an intense emotional spark, which is essentially the spark of life!

A time of opportunity

Adolescence is a time of immense opportunity, where we, as adults, can support young people to maximise the immense changes occurring in the brain, by being present for these changes in a way that is curious, open, loving and mindful. Yes structure is important, but so too is empowerment.

Siegel reminds us children and young people need to feel safe, seen (but not smothered), soothed, and secure. From that basis, their exploration of the world and what it means to be human can soar. Siegel provides tips for ripening these conditions by providing tools throughout the book. These are essentially mindfulness-based practices ranging from the traditional to the innovative designed to support teens and adults alike.

Two targets not successful

If I were to have one criticism, Brainstorm attempted to target both teen readers and adults. While I enjoyed it immensely, I wonder how many teens would. I'm approaching middle age and have no idea what a teen would read these days! Maybe Seigel was right on the button? And in his defence, he doesn’t try to come across in a way that a middle-aged man might think teenagers would speak (a grave mistake made by many). Instead he approaches this work with warmth, honesty and authenticity. It's the reflection of a person who is most likely very self-aware, empathic and well-integrated.

Reviewed by Grant Rix, operations manager, Mindful Aotearoa at the Mental Health Foundation

 


 

The brain and emotional intelligence new insights25 March 2015

The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights

Goleman, D. (2011) More than sound LLC

The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights is a concise overview of the concept of emotional intelligence for the novice, and a boon for the time or attention-challenged. At less than 80 pages, it’s a zippy read, yet rich in scope, discussing emotional intelligence versus IQ, creativity, self-awareness and mastery, motivation, stress, how to achieve optimal performance and more.

Daniel Goleman has written several longer books (which I’ve not read) on emotional intelligence. Goleman's introduction suggests that this short volume is intended as an update to accommodate new research, but not an exhaustive review: “this is a work in progress that focuses on actionable findings, on new insights you can use”. In some ways it reads like a blog. Research findings and technical diagrams are interspersed with chatty anecdote and suggestions for practical application.

A bit choppy and jumpy

However at times its brevity, teamed with its ambitious scope, makes for choppy jumps in tone and topic. It can be unclear who the intended audience is: students, teachers, managers, coaches, the science-curious lay reader? After a little digging, it appears that this was, at least in the original digital-only edition, indeed an anthology of selected essays, which accounts for some of the unevenness.

That said, I found many enlightening points to ponder, for example the links between creativity and relaxation, (bearing out the value of a long-held habit – a walk around the block when blocked) and the negativity bias of email. Emoticons are my new best friends!

I would recommend this as a reasonably easy toe-dip for anyone interested in learning about the underlying mechanisms of emotions, or to those seeking a brief but thorough introduction to the field of affective neuroscience.

Reviewed by Amy MacKinnon, graphic designer at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


 

Big Little Book of Resilience copy 300x300

18 March 2015

The Big Little Book of Resilience

Johnstone, M. (2015) Pan Macmillan

They say good things come in small packages – well that’s certainly true of this little book. The Big Little Book of Resilience couldn't have come to me at a better time in my life. The book is filled with words of wisdom that shed light on the human condition. It teaches us how to accept things that life throws at us, complete with useful ideas to build resilience. What's more it is easy to read with beautiful illustrations.

The book is divided into two parts, on talking about the reality of life and what it has to do with resilience, the other providing information about eating, sleeping, forgiveness and ideas about how to have a healthy mind and body.

In a nutshell, this is such a good gift for friends, and I have also decided to buy one just for me.

Reviewed by Ivan Yeo, information officer at the Mental Health Foundation. 

 


 

11 March 2015

Suicide in men: how men differ from women in expressing their distress

Edited by David Lester, John F. III Gunn, and Paul Quinnett 

Suicide in menSuicide is a complex problem, and doesn't have simple causes or solutions. One of the complexities is the higher numbers (often much higher) of men, than women who die by suicide in all countries, except China. This is despite universally higher numbers of women who attempt suicide. In most populations higher numbers of women also meet the criteria for diagnoses of depression and anxiety disorders.

Suicide in Men is an internationally orientated volume that explores the possible explanations for higher rates of death by suicide in men, and it also looks at a range of related issues around male suicide. Chapter topics include the realtionship between suicide and loneliness, depression, drugs and alcohol, risks and protective factors, athletes, armed forces, gay men, other cultures (including Chinese, Ugandan and Palestinian men), suicide bombers and creativity. Towards the end of the book there are also chapters on what may work in prevention programmes.

In all there are 17 contributors to this book, with the bulk of the writing coming from the three editors. Most of the the chapters are written in academic style, reading like literature reviews, with very tentative conclusions and the ubiquitous phrase of most academic papers: "more research is needed...".

At times the academic caution, formality and provisos makes the reading a little hard going, and also rather dry, feeling a little removed from the tragic and heart-wrenching subject matter. A few chapters, however, do have a more human touch (the chapter on‘fatal loneliness, for instance) and some take a more theoretical analysis and several argue for complete paragdigm shifts in suicide prevention for men.

Overall, this is not a book that will attract a more general readership, but is likely to be of great interest to those working or studying in the field of suicide prevention and mental health services with a gender focus. While the book is focussed on suicide in men, it of course make comparisons with women's experiences, and considers many of the sub groups within men. So it could also be a useful resource for anyone with an interest in population approaches to suicide.

Unfortunately for an Aotearoa audience there is no chapter looking specifically at indigenous male experience and suicide within a colonising European origin culture.

I believe this book is an extremely valuable resource for those who want to discover the depths and limits of what we know about suicide in men as well as some emerging answers for successful approaches to prevention. The numbers of men globally who die by suicide, must be one of the major and and more tragic public health problems today, but the impression from this book is that it is also possibly one of the less recognised and researched ones, too. 

Reviewed by Hugh Norriss, director of policy and development, Mental Health Foundation

 


 

sustainable happiness cover4 March 2015

Sustainable Happiness: Live Simply, Live well, Make a Difference

Edited by Sarah Van Gelder and YES! magazine staff

“To lead a more meaningful and fulfilling existence, simple living is not about abandoning luxury, but discovering it in new places.”

I describe this book as a “wholesome” read; it’s fabulous for self reflection and finding sustaining happiness.

The personal stories and theories about mental health helped me acknowledge and appreciate how we used to behave and live in a society, and how things have changed – for the worse.

The book’s contention is that consumerism, growth of a profit-driven economy, greed and inverted perspectives have led us to live in a world where happiness is infrequent and non-sustainable.

Although some of the suggestions seem unrealistic, there is a logical basis to what is being said. For example, the encouragement to find work you love isn’t financially possible for many people, but the principle argued is that money doesn’t buy happiness!

For years, many people have been able to achieve sustainable happiness simply by living off of the bare minimum, the authors suggest. To accomplish this, we figure out where our values and talents meet and finding the things that work for us as individuals. The bottom-line, for the betterment of your mental health and happiness, is ‘take the plunge, follow your calling’, even if it scares you.

Nevertheless, the book comes with a good dose of reality; it advises readers not to plan immense moves and reminds us that over-thinking things can sway us in the wrong direction.

I recommend this book for anyone who has fallen victim to the profit-driven economy and advertising pressures of today.

Reviewed by Ellie David, communications intern at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


 

Spirited Aging cultivating the art of renewal25 February 2015

Spirited Ageing

Batten, J. (2013) Ishtar Books

Like many people, I have not looked forward to ageing but I am retiring and it is important for me to make the most of this later stage of my life. I want to do ageing well and Spirited Ageing is just the book I needed to set me on the right course.

If you think successful ageing means sky-diving or running a marathon in your 80s, you’re going to have to think again. The core message of the book is that if you recognise you are more than just a body you can accept your physical decline while you expand your spirit and live a rich and satisfying life.

Spirituality not necessarily religious

Spirituality is not defined in religious terms but rather as "connecting with the pulse of life through nature, creativity, love or spiritual practices". Accessing this power enables you to stay alive on the inside regardless of what is happening in the body.

Spirituality is just one aspect of the book. It also outlines the steps you can take when you are young-old (60s to mid-late 70s) such as taking better care of your body, practising mindfulness, fostering relationships, clearing clutter and letting go of attachment to things. There’s plenty of practical advice such as deciding where to live, changing negative thoughts and appointing an attorney. Each chapter includes exercises to help with these tasks and suggests topics for reflection and there are useful templates in the appendices.

Making a graceful exit

The final chapters address the aspects of ageing that are most feared such as dementia, pain and loneliness, and then discuss ways in which you can prepare to make a graceful exit.

As part of her research, Juliet Batten questioned many people, mostly New Zealanders in their 60s and 70s, and their responses are used as quotes throughout the book. I found this made the examples real and the advice particularly meaningful.

Despite tackling the hard issues the tone of the book is entirely positive and uplifting and, when I had finished reading, I felt energised and enthusiastic about the years ahead. I intend to buy my own copy so that I can refer to it as I go along.

Reviewed by Jo Beck, information officer at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


 

 

18 February 2015

Families and Men 4a122370d1821Families & Mental Illness – Speaking From Experience

Produced by Real Time Health and SANE Australia.

The Families & Mental Illness – Speaking From Experience DVD tells the story of people living with mental illness and their carers. They openly talk about their lives, coming to terms with illness, finding a balance, self acceptance and awareness, preparation, finding support and looking ahead.

The DVD looks shows how mental illness not only the affects the individual, but also those around them. It draws on real-life experiences that would be helpful for people who care for those who live with mental illness.

Although this DVD reports on those affected by bipolar and schizophrenia, it would be useful for anyone who is caring for someone with any mental health condition. Parents, siblings, partners or friends find that they take on a huge amount of responsibility when caring for someone experiencing a mental illness. Often they put so much time into looking after someone else that they forget to care for themselves.

Carers take time out

One of the core messages of the DVD is that it is essential that carers are able to take time for themselves and constructively express their emotions, through, for example, drawing, playing the guitar, writing, or cooking, or any other activity that can help the individual rediscover or strengthen a positive mindset. Practicality and real-life experience is what makes this programme credible.

The accompanying booklet goes into more detail. Advice, stories and services* with a specific focus on different types of carers are presented throughout the booklet, with reference to what is introduced in the DVD. It is a well-thought out and informative package for carers.

*Please note the services listed are for Australian residents. For New Zealand services, please refer to the Get Help section of the Mental Health Foundation website.

Reviewed by Ellie David, communications intern at the Mental Health Foundation.

 

 


 

 

book cover

11 February 2015

Challenging the Stigma of Mental Illness: Lessons for Therapists and Advocates

Corrigan, P.W., Roe, D., and Hector W H Tsang, H.W.T. (2011) Wiley-Blackwell 

Challenging the Stigma of Mental Illness is a call to action that arms you with the information and resources to address a wide range of situations from, stigmatising media reports to the self-stigma of people with lived experience.

It contains example worksheet and links you to resources for evaluation and planning of projects. This book won’t be the only resource you will need to create an anti-stigma project but I think offers a good grounding to decide what is an appropriate approach to make the best impact. The authors also provide lists of other resources, research and further readings.

Stigma is "venomous, poisonous and criminal"

Challenging the Stigma of Mental Illness is a comprehensive introduction of how to challenge stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. From the beginning they remind the reader why stigma is an issue that must be addressed and are unapologetic in their language describing stigma as "venomous, poisonous and criminal". This strong language, alongside real stories, and the findings of research in to stigma ensures the reader is in no doubt there is an enemy to fight, and just like racism and sexism, it is all of our responsibility to challenge.

Sadly, the authors do get some facts wrong about the New Zealand's own Like Minds, Like Mine campaign not realising it has been going 18 years now and in the resources section listed the project under Australia! But I will forgive them for these small slips as I got so much from this book.

Good straight talking

Even for those of us currently working in anti-stigma work I think the straight talking about the personal nature of stigma and the explicit description of stigma as a social injustice reinvigorates our work.

Simply having current approaches reaffirmed as effective is useful but the books also provokes discussions on the complex nature of creating attitude and behaviour change and have the opportunity to think about alternative methods.

I had some ‘aha’ moments reflecting on what I was reading and some current issues I am working on. I will be holding on to the book to work through some of these ideas and want to discuss further with other anti-stigma workers. This is a good one to keep on your bookshelf – or at least borrow a copy take some good notes!

Reviewed by Lisa Ducat, mental health promoter with the Mental Health Foundation.

 


 

Thrive cover4 February 2015

Thrive: The Power of Evidenced-Based Psychological Therapies

Layard, R. & Clark, D.M. (2014) Allen Lane

When I heard Richard Layard (aka Professor Lord Layard) had written another book after his 2005 game-changer Happiness: Lessons from a new science, I was understandably eager to learn what would be the new leading edge of thought around mental health and wellbeing from one of the world’s eminent experts.

Layard, a labour economist by trade, has for the last 10 years teamed up with David Clark, a clinical psychologist from Oxford, to form the "dream team of British social science" according to Martin Seligman. They have effectively lobbied the British government to implement what has become the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, which the book describes in detail.

Common sense

The central thesis of the book is both compellingly simple and extraordinarily powerful: Too many people suffer from entirely treatable mental illnesses and there is no reason why this injustice cannot be remedied. Layard and Clark point out that the overwhelming majority of people with physical illness receive high quality treatment, and yet comparatively few sufferers of mental illness do. While 90% of diabetes sufferers receive treatment for their condition, under a third of all adults with diagnosable mental illness do. Worst of all, mental ill-health causes more of the suffering in our society than physical illness, poverty or unemployment. The authors then set out the science supporting the effectiveness of evidenced-based, modern day talking therapies, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and others, and to my view argue successfully that access to gold standard therapy should be a citizen’s guaranteed right.

Economic sense

While the comparison to physical treatment standards should be enough to convince most people that access to mental illness treatment should be made more easily available, the authors use their expertise to build a compelling case based on rational economics as well. The cost of delivering a course of gold standard psychological therapy (usually about 10 sessions) is more than made-up for in recouped public welfare and health costs: Pay for psychological therapy with public money and it will cost you nothing in the long run because of the savings in associated physical healthcare alone. Additionally, Layard and Clark speak to the tremendous quality of life improvements and subsequent return to society of citizens more able to contribute fully to the economic system. While Thrive does not dwell for long on a hard economic argument, it is made well for the penny-pinchers in the readership.

Time for change

The key message of Thrive is for parity of treatment for people who are physically and mentally ill. Layard and Clark suggest society will reflect back in 25 years’ time and marvel that it took us so long to widely introduce easy access to such good quality, scientifically validated therapies. The book does a very good job of interspersing short excerpts from letters written directly to Lord Layard describing not only the acute suffering of those who have experienced anxiety, depression, and other illnesses, but also of the life-changing turn-arounds that CBT and other therapies gave those who had felt there was previously no hope.

Thrive argues for nothing less than a revolution in our attitudes towards treating mental illness and offers an alternative to the current system to make the world a happier and mentally healthier place.

Reviewed by Carsten Grimm, mental health promoter with the Mental Health Foundation.


ACT Companion

28 January 2015

How to be a happier fish

Review of mobile app: ACT Companion: The Acceptance Commitment Therapy Training app

While thinking about writing this review, I had a vision of a fish floundering in the water, which is how I feel sometimes in my busy life as a working mum.

Then I realised The ACT Companion, or Acceptance Commitment Therapy app, is useful because it gives me a chance to get present, quickly work out what’s important to me, get unstuck from unhelpful thinking, and to work out the best action to take.

The app first caught my eye because it focuses not only on mindfulness, but also gently encourages staying open to what is going on in life, while at the same time remaining true to your own values.

The app is produced by Australian psychologist Anthony Berrick, who has a particular interest in behavioural psychology and mindfulness-based interventions. It has also received high praise from Russ Harris, an acclaimed ACT trainer and author of The Reality Slap. Dr Harris says the app is the most impressive ACT or mindfulness app he's seen yet.

Put ACT into action, with three simple steps

The ACT Companion provides three simple steps to help you get present through mindfulness exercises, open up using acceptance exercises, and engage with commitment exercises.

As with any therapy or tool, it’s dependent on you to make an effort to reap the rewards. The app is easy and rewarding to use, keeps explanations simple, can be personalised and offers many insights. Whatismore, using an app is just way easier to use than lugging a book or journal around.

The app has the option to set reminders to finish exercises, and you receive a weekly check-in alert where you can assess if your recent responses to life's challenges reflected your core values.

Visual cues to remember what's important

I particularly liked the treasure chest feature where you can attach a photo to represent a personal value, eg, a photo of my son to remind me to stop, to play and have fun more often.

I like the immediacy of it, when you are out and about you can use life examples as they happen, or carry on with an exercise if fresh inspiration hits. There’s also a user guide for health professionals to use during your therapy sessions.

With ACT Companion: The Acceptance Commitment Therapy Training app, I’m now perhaps less of a flapping fish and working towards being a happier fish swimming in a pond that sustains me.

Reviewed by Kim Higginson, information officer at the Mental Health Foundation.


Mindfulness a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world

21 January 2015

Mindfulness – a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world

Williams, M. & Penman, D. (2011). Piatkus

Mindfulness is the awareness of our physical and mental surroundings, both within and around us. After taking up a bit of amateur mindfulness myself I was eager to give this book a read. From the first page I was able to relate to it greatly; as would anyone who has experienced stress.

The book is written in a friendly, conversational style, but what really swayed me to delve deeper into its pages was the way the authors altered my understanding of mindfulness. Mindfulness illustrated that clearing your mind is not the singular focal point of the task, it can ultimately do much more than that.

Real life stories 

The guide has been written for people who have stress in their lives, acknowledging and relating to them well. The authors use real life stories to help the reader see that everyone (no matter how busy you think you are) has the ability to be mindful.

Although I found this guide to be quite repetitive, in respect to the information and examples it provides, the exercises and the structure of the programme are easy to understand and apply to everyday life.

Chocolate meditation

One of my favourite exercises is chocolate meditation. This is the very first task of the programme and one I am sure you will enjoy too. Who would have thought that being mindful about eating a piece of chocolate could make that chocolate taste so much better than before? 

I liked the use of metaphor in the book, finding it helped me understand why mindfulness is so good for you.  For example: “When unhappiness or stress hover overhead, rather than taking it all personally, you learn to treat them as if they were black clouds in the sky, and to observe them with friendly curiosity as they drift pass.”

Only having enough time to try the first week of meditation, I very much look forward to taking on the next seven weeks of the programme. I would recommend this book for anyone, of any age, who is feeling anxious, stressed or depressed. It is a really good practical guide to finding mindfulness in a chaotic life. 

Reviewed by Ellie David, communications intern at the Mental Health Foundation.

 

 


How to be an explorer of the world

17 December 2014

How to be an explorer of the world

Smith, K. (2008). Perigee Trade

An appealing but, for me, potentially dangerous book! Immediately it promises to be neither tedious nor difficult. How to be an Explorer of the World's quarto size and 13mm thickness of strong, flexible leaves and cover are pleasant to handle.

The 208 black, white, grey and orange pages, many illustrated, and its fieldwork recording sheets are visually enticing. The text of handwritten capitals, even to the page numbers, ditto. I am interested, challenged.

Read in any order, adapt and interpret

Instructions are to read the book in any order, starting with whatever arouses a twinge of excitement. There are suggestions, not rules, and every exercise can be adapted, is open to interpretation and to be seen as an experiment. Many exercises involve using the senses to notice the world in more detail, perhaps even suspending usual frameworks of experience – do you recognise mindfulness, originally a Buddhist meditation practice now increasingly used in therapy?

Fail-safe tasks that need little energy

So far a helpful book for depression: fail-safe tasks that need little energy, but require the assertive act of choice and a reaching out to the world beyond self. Many exercises ask for a walk outdoors, in itself therapeutic but often very difficult to achieve, I find. But even at the low point of being curled up in a foetal position under the bed, hiding from life, I could still listen for different sounds, notice smells or think of all the different materials surrounding me. Certainly a useful adjunct or approach to journaling, which I’ve stopped.

On page 109, author Keri Smith quotes John Cage: “[The residual purpose of art is] purposeless play... This play, however, is an affirmation of life... a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent... ”

I find depression to be a serious, life-denying, self-denying experience, so what a boon to have a book telling me to play! Smith also quotes Charles Eames: “Who is to say that pleasure is useless?”

In my rarer episodes of elevated mood I would definitely need to stay away from the book.  In fact if I had the book, using it daily might be an early warning sign that my mood was heading upwards.

What to trade for this book?

I am, by nature, a collector and hoarder. As a child I had collections of books, shells, postage stamps, fizzy bottle labels, rock samples, cacti; today it’s newspaper articles, yarn, fabric pieces, zips, buttons, card and paper, reels of thread, knitting patterns, books and cacti again. I collect for knowledge, because I love analysing and classifying, and to have resources for creating. Especially as my husband is the same if not more so, I don’t need this book’s encouragement to collect objects though collecting descriptions might pass muster. I even collect projects and having many on the go may be a sign of a high on its way.

I’m supposed to be decluttering. If I buy How to be an Explorer of the World for $23.40 from the University Bookshop I must cull a book in exchange. I could also make art from bits of my clutter and hold an art show – helpful advice on how to is just before the glossary, bibliography and thanks – and might sell enough to buy storage containers and folders.

Lastly the imagination exercise on pages 144 and 145: What if I had the power of invisibility? If all my neighbours had secret lives? If the newspaper held all the secrets of the universe in some kind of code? If all leaves had secret messages embedded into them? And what would it be like to travel on a beam of light? Wouldn’t a psychiatrist be interested in hearing about this!

Keri Smith has written other books and has a great website: www.kerismith.com

Reviewed by Marion Beamish. 

 


 

Building emotional intelligence practices to cultivate resilience in children

10 December 2014

Building Emotional Intelligence: Techniques to Cultivate Inner Strength in Children

Lantieri, L (2014) Boulder: Sounds True.

In 2013 I was fortunate to attend the Melbourne-based Happiness & Its Causes conference. At this conference I heard author Linda Lantieri as one of the keynote speakers and attended a half-day workshop. Hearing Lantieri truly brought the book to life and although it speaks mainly to parents, it is just as useful in the school setting.

As Lantieri showed us, her work in this field was heightened greatly by the events of 11 September 2001. It was the actions of teachers and children as they fled this disaster that led her to a deeper understanding: "that the real tests of life can come a child’s way at any moment and that we as adults cannot protect our children from circumstances beyond our control." Mindfulness then is the central theme of this work and looking into ways of being that help in moments of stress.

Lantieri a pioneer in her field

In Daniel Goleman’s words, who is also a foremost thinker in the field of emotional intelligence, "Lantieri has continued to be a pioneer in the movement to integrate social and emotional learning into schools throughout the world."

The three main areas of this work which resonate in my role promoting health and wellbeing are:

  • The importance of the role of teachers being a caring and supportive adult believing in their students
  • The role of social and emotional learning supporting the development of cognitive skills and knowledge
  • The importance of developing mindfulness into everyday life both within the home and in the school setting.

Increasingly schools are becoming busy environments unhelpfully obsessed with academic learning outcomes with constant testing, assessment and reporting on a variety of levels. As Lantieri shows by quoting Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence (1995), "One of psychology’s open secrets is the relative inability of grades... to predict unerringly who will succeed in life… There are widespread exceptions to the rule that IQ predicts success - many (or more) exceptions than cases that fit the rule. At best, IQ contributes about 20% to the factors that determine life success, which leaves 80% to other forces."

An untapped area of learning

It is this largely untapped area of learning which Lantieri presents for parents and teachers to consider, and in our schooling system a high level of interaction between each setting (home and school) is encouraged and expected. The set of five basic skills or competencies which can be systematically cultivated are explained clearly in Chapter Two: Preparing to teach children exercises to calm the body and focus the mind. The guiding principles for these are very easy to grasp as teachers and parents guide children in understanding themselves and their responses to life’s events.

This book offers two different tools to manage stress effectively developing deep breathing exercises (diaphragmatic breathing). The second tool teaches how to progressively relax the body’s muscles. Once people become used to these routines there is a CD with age-graded activities and helpful directions to manage. Teachers and parents helping children to manage themselves, their relationships and their responses to everyday life is critical to setting up more positive, successful futures. And of course in becoming more mindful of their children, of their students, both parents and teachers stand to gain in their own lives.

Mindfulness in academic outcomes

Finally, this book has the enormous potential to assist schools to develop their awareness of the role of mindfulness in the academic outcomes they wish for their students. The Education Review Office in its Wellbeing for Success: Draft Evaluation Indicators for Student Wellbeing 2013 is asking the same questions which Lantieri poses:

  • Do we systematically and purposefully teach the skills needed for students to develop social awareness, relationship skills, self-confidence, self-management and responsible decision-making?
  • To what extent are the principles of health and physical education curriculum (hauora, attitudes and values, socio-ecological perspective and health promotion) known, understood and integrated into all curriculum areas?
  • How well are the achievement objectives set out in health and physical education integrated across the implementation of the curriculum?

Therefore I am encouraging anyone who reads this to take the time to explore Lantieri’s work, read her publications, listen to her presentations and support others to develop a more mindful approach to their lives.

Review by Richard Wisnesky, a Health Promoting Schools Adviser in the community and public health a division of the Canterbury District Health Board.

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section

 



How to have creative ideas 62 exercises to develop the mind3 December 2014

How to have Creative Ideas: 62 exercises to develop the mind

de Bono, E. (2008) US: Vermilion.

This book is small in size but large in punch - the majority of its contents consisting of word games designed to enhance one’s ability to think creatively.

As author Edward de Bono says: “The emphasis in on the creativity of ‘what can be’ rather than the usual education emphasis on ‘what is’.”

Creativity is strongly linked with achievement - in any sphere of life.

De Bono maintains that creativity is a skill that can be learned, and is necessary to learn if we are to achieve success, give our business a competitive edge, or enable us to stand above the crowd in academic and work environments.

Possibility is the key to creativity

The brain training exercises (or games) are designed to help develop mental skill and mental habits which promote possibility rather than certainty in our work and lives. As he states - possibility is the key to creativity.

The word games are meant to be used as physical exercise is - daily, increasing in intensity as one’s strength develops.

The games can be used in teams, in work groups or alone. They are not about intelligence, but about enhancing one’s ability to make connections, see what is possible, instead of being rational, logical or limited.

De Bono entreats his readers to “Have fun. But it is serious fun. Creativity is a very serious skill… you can have fun while you develop this skill.”

Review by Miriam Millson, part of the team at Beth-Shean Trust respite. 

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section

 


How to have a beautiful mind26 November 2014

How to have a Beautiful Mind

De Bono, E. (2004) Ebury Press

An arresting title, a colourful, enticing cover, a respected and interesting author; all this makes an easy choice for my book review. The back cover blurb entreats readers to “use the power of creative thinking to become more attractive with a makeover for your mind!”

Edward De Bono speaks of beauty as being “something that can be appreciated by others”, and sets about showing the reader using simple concepts, and clear writing in bite-sized chunks, how working on conversational skills can make us appear more interesting and attractive.

From conversation to problem-solving

The chapters range across basic conversational skills - how to listen, how to respond, how to agree or disagree - through the use of concepts or values in conversation, to looking at the range of attitudes commonly encountered when interacting with others.

De Bono also touches on lateral thinking and six hats problem-solving - concepts on which he has written at length elsewhere, but which contribute to developing a beautiful mind.

Everyone can learn something here

You may think: what is new in this? I have heard this before! Some of it, yes, no doubt you have.

Maybe your conversations are seasoned with these ideas, in which case people probably already enjoy discussions with you.

I am convinced however, that even the most confident conversationalist can learn something of value from this book.

Those who lack confidence in social settings, who doubt their ability to hold a conversation, or who feel that they have little to offer will find themselves willing to test some of these skills in meetings or social situations.

Great skills to learn

Here are a few gems:

  • Being interesting is more important than winning an argument.
  • Feelings can control perception. But without feelings we would not be interested in perceiving anything at all.
  • You can be using a concept without being aware of the concept you are using.
  • A really skilled conversationalist can create interest from any topic whatsoever.
  • You bother to make your appearance attractive. Why not bother to make your conversation attractive?

So, does this little book live up to its promise? If you believe that for a mind to be beautiful it ought also to be a thoughtful mind, an enquiring mind, an others-focussed mind, a creative mind - then yes, reading this book will help you on your way to having a more beautiful mind. I heartily recommend it, and am off to buy my own copy.

Review by Miriam Millson, part of the team at Beth-Shean Trust respite. 

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section

 


Curious the desire to know and why your future depends on it

19 November 2014

Curious: the desire to know and why your future depends on it

Leslie, I. (2014) Quercus

This book sets curiosity in the history of the world. For example, Leonardo da Vinci’s curiosity was far ranging and well documented. Ian Leslie describes how curiosity can develop and flower in each of our lives, given the right conditions. He lists ways that we can keep it alive or revive it in our minds today.

How does the internet affect our curiosity? Possibly for better, possibly for worse. It is a powerful learning tool which is too often used for recreation such as playing games and looking at cute cat videos!

An interesting distinction is made between puzzles, which have a “pat” answer, and mysteries about which we will wonder, be curious about, until our dying day.

The power of the question

A large section is devoted to the power of the question. How do we encourage children to ask the right sort of question? Why is this so important? How does having a database of knowledge enable us to make more penetrating enquiries?

The author illustrates the book with anecdotes about ordinary people exercising their curiosity (or not, as the case may be) and tells stories about how never flagging curiosity was an essential ingredient in the success of people like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs.

If this book has a weakness, it is that the author has not specified exactly the research which he describes. It would have been good to be able to see where and when the research was carried out so that a curious reader would be able to easily access it.

Review by Fay Weatherly, a member of U3A. 

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section

 


 

Learning by doing community led change in aotearoa new zealand12 November 2014

Learning by Doing: Community-Led Change in Aotearoa NZ

Inspiring Communities Trust (2013)

Learning by Doing unpacks what authors refer to as Community-Led Change (CLC) and Community-Led Development (CLD) in this country.

Inspiring Communities, who produced the report, is a charitable trust funded by a four-year grant from the Tindall Foundation. Learning by Doing is essentially a summary of their findings 2008–2012.

Nine organisations practicing a broad range of CLC interpretations were tracked across the four-year period and feature in case studies scattered throughout the book and then expanded upon in the appendices. These case studies are the doing the report’s title refers to.

New terms unknown to many

I read this document as someone who has been involved with a lot of doing in Christchurch in the post-quake environment.

My experience in community development has been predominantly limited to the last four years with my organisation, so I do not profess to be an expert in the field, but realise I have a valid interpretation of Learning by Doing.

CLD or CLC are not terms that I have as yet used day-to-day, but after reading I can see that it’s part of what we do. There must be many, many people out there doing this work who may not be aware that it is referred to in this way.

Very North Island-centric

I did notice that there is very little reference to Christchurch and the quakes in the report.

Admittedly, the work was underway before the quakes but only minimal references have been made throughout.

Perhaps this was out of sensitivity and a desire to give the quake-torn city some space before rushing in to analyse it or bother struggling organisations.

But I do feel the need to venture a critique that Learning by Doing is very North Island-centric.

Place, process, reflections and lessons

The report takes a step-by-step approach across place, process (engagement, leadership, activation/sustenance) and finally, reflections and lessons.

Within the first part of the report, the role of place and the importance of good facilitation in making things happen are considered as well as new models of governance.

The involvement of tangata whenua and the resulting culturally-driven considerations are unpacked with some depth.

Community resilience is given consideration and this is where Christchurch’s situation is discussed, albeit briefly.

Impact on the community

In my view, the most important section of the report is chapter six where the authors reflect on the impact this sort of activity is having in the community and its associated challenges.

They acknowledge that CLC is an iterative process often done on the fly. They muse that the best place for CLD practices to have impact is with neighbourhoods, small towns or suburban groups.

The authors reflect on the Inspiring Communities team’s learning that CLC groups sometimes lack the desire, often motivated by a lack of time, to run adequate reflective processes when undertaking their work.

Inspiring Communities, noticing this lack, then supported their nine case-study organisations to do a greater amount of reflection during the time in which this project was taking place.

Journey more important than destination

Furthermore, I found it pleasing and a relief to read (as it concurred with own experience) that the Inspiring Communities team recognised how important the process was in CLC and as such, how often the impacts it may have are in fact difficult to see or pinpoint physically.

The process or the journey can be more important that what you get at the other end. Networks, new ways of thinking, community connectedness, desires and priority shifts are difficult to see but they are still outcomes.

Many funders and government bodies are often product or outcome oriented and one would hope this report can help to increase awareness about different ways of working here. A broader understanding of good outcomes in CLD and an acceptance of its inherent messiness or complexity would be a good outcome from this report.

Permission to empower change

Something that I reflected on as I read this report was that I felt it is almost trying to give people permission to undertake or support/empower community-led change.

It’s a sad indictment on New Zealand society this sort of thing still needs to be legitimised.

It says a lot about how pervasive our permit culture is; created as a result of over-bureaucratisation and risk-aversion. On page 94, the report talks about the need to regenerate the Kiwi ‘can-do’ spirit; that Number 8 Wire mentality we love to claim when we do things well. We’ve had a wonderful run of that in Christchurch post-quake just getting on and doing things without waiting for permission.

For the next version of Learning by Doing, perhaps if there is a follow-up, I’d like to see lessons from Christchurch shared more widely with the rest of the country. In a post-disaster situation the normal way of working gets discarded and people get on and do things out of necessity.

The big challenge is not reverting back to old ways if, in fact, new ways are working better! How do we take the good lessons forward for long-term change both here and elsewhere?

Review by Coralie Winn, Director and Co-Founder of urban regeneration initiative, Gap Filler in Christchurch. 

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section

 


 

Community capacity building lessons from adult learning in Australia5 November 2014

Community Capacity Building: Lessons from adult learning in Australia

Edited by Postle, G.,D., Burton, L.,J., and Danaher, P.,A., (2014) National Institute of Adult Continuing Education

Community Capacity Building recalls the Community for Community (C4C) partnership between the University of Southern Queensland and the communities in Toowoomba, Australia, as well as focusing on capacity building and university engagement.

Community initiatives bring a cohesive nature back to communities and improve social issues, the book says. Divided into three sections, the text discusses perspectives related to universities and their place in community capacity building. The second section outlines seven case studies of the C4C initiatives demonstrating the success of the collaborative projects. The third section elaborates on issues within the case studies and implications of future development.

Collaboratively written

This text is collaboratively written by university academics and community members working together and has a strong academic focus with many references to theory and discussions from the community development arena.

Two specific community initiatives are closely explored: the Older Men’s Network, a self-help group for older men at risk, and the Flexi School, which brings alienated youth back into social connection, alongside other related projects. It is this section of the book that brings life to the initiatives through the narratives of those concerned.

Building capacity takes time

The book emphasises that community capacity building takes time and is based on open, trusting relationships and gives guidance about what's been learnt in relation to these aspects.

Community Capacity Building is an important contribution to the dialogue regarding community development. But note the text is academic; it takes some concentration and focus to digest its density but its messages are of significance.

For anyone wanting to gain greater understanding of the complex nature of community capacity building and to have some models to establishing successful community capacity development projects this book will provide that guidance.

Review by Juliana Korzon

Julia is a Senior Lecturer in mental health studies and a programme coordinator at Whitireia Polytechnic, working primarily with mental health and addiction nurses in their first year of nursing practice and training Department of Corrections nurses in primary mental healthcare.

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section

 


 

Empowerment lifelong learning and recovery in mental health towards a new paradigm29 October 2014

Empowerment, Lifelong Learning and Recovery in Mental Health: Towards a New Paradigm

By Ryan, P., Ramon, S., & Greacen, T. (2012) Palgrave Macmillan

Don't get put off by the bland cover of this text or the wordy title: Empowerment, Lifelong Learning and Recovery in Mental Health: Towards a New Paradigm. This academic text actually contains some very interesting and thought provoking essays written by a range of service users and clinicians working in mental health.

I suppose the benefit of having such a long title, is that it certainly spells out what the book is about. As the introduction states, the thesis of the book is that the four concepts of empowerment, lifelong learning, social inclusion and recovery are closely connected and “that together they contribute to a new paradigm in mental health, one that locates the service user as the central driver of their own life”.

What's new with this concept? Plenty!

I couldn’t agree more, so, as arrogant as it sounds, I wondered at first what new things the authors could tell me about this concept. As it turned out – a lot! The book is divided into three chapters – recovery, social inclusion and employment, empowerment and lifelong learning, and there are a series of essays per chapter.

My favourite section was the recovery section, and the accounts written in first person.

I personally think many an academic text would be livened up by authors only being allowed to write in first person!

Highlights for me were Helen Glover’s thoughtful and challenging essay where she asks, is it a new paradigm or old paradigm dressed in sheep’s clothing? Are we just simply repackaging the same system? The language may change, but the values don’t. However, rather than leaving the reader in a cynical slump, she provides some excellent service assessment tools to help practitioners determine how enabling their service actually is.

Recovery from professional stigma

Another highlight was clinical social worker Robert Surber’s honest account of his recovery from his own professional stigma. He acknowledges the insidiousness of professional stigma and bravely outlines his shocked realisation that he did not know how to relate to people with mental illnesses as equals. He is now committed to ensuring service users are fully integrated as professionals and provides best practice suggestions on how to do this.

I didn’t find the other two chapters as interesting, however chapter two is a recommended read if you want to discover more about international employment initiatives such as the Trieste project and the IPS model.

As is chapter three if you want to read in detail about the importance of lifelong learning and in particular the EU project EMILIA. I will leave this project tantalizingly unexplained.

In summary, this book is a useful resource to have on hand at your local library. I would particularly recommend chapter one for people who have an interest in reducing stigma within the mental health sector and are excited by the idea (as I am) that we are shifting towards a brave new paradigm.

Reviewed by Philippa Coyle, Business Development Manager and Like Minds Health Promoter at Mind and Body Learning and Development and Mind and Body Consultants.

Philippa has worked in the mental health and social services sector for more than a decade. She has an MA in English Literature from the University of Auckland and holds a Post Graduate Certificate in Management Studies (Mental Health) from the University of Waikato. 

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section

 


 

Focus the hidden driver of excellence22 October 2014

Focus: The hidden driver of excellence

Goleman, D. (2013) Bloomsbury

Being a practitioner of mindfulness (personally and professionally) I was looking forward to reading Daniel Goleman’s book to gain further insights into its application and effectiveness.

While I finished the book with a tinge of disappointment, this was due I believe to my initial misreading of the audience the book targets.

Focus is essentially about business and leadership psychology which incorporates the more recent research findings on mindfulness and its effective use within organisations. At least it ends up with this focus.

Bottom-up and top-down circuitry

Goleman starts by comparing the neuroscience that has helped to differentiate the bottom-up (our more automatic and reactive processes eg fight-flight) and top-down circuitry (reasoning and decision-making processes e.g. deliberation and planning) of our brain.

He uses this differentiation throughout the book to highlight research that further confirms the effectiveness of being able to combine the gut ‘I’ and the rational ‘me’ for more effective action and behaviour.

I could go through the different brain areas that he identifies as producing our different types of awareness (of our own body, others and the world around us) but suffice to say that the prefrontal cortex is vital to integrating many of these various functions into meaningful and purpose-driven action.

Mindfulness as an activator

This is where mindfulness comes in. Research shows mindfulness activates crucial areas of this part of the brain and helps to create new and enhanced neural connections with a variety of other areas of the brain.

Goleman talks about the tripod of awareness; inner, other and outer and he sites numerous examples of research that confirm the positive impacts of mindfulness on all of these at a time when many of us live in a culture of information overload.

Goleman’s key point is that in this world of social media and rapid technological change we struggle to focus appropriately on the things that make a difference in our own lives and those around us. He calls it a poverty of attention because for him our current focus becomes our reality.

Enjoyable mindfulness discussion

I particularly enjoyed his discussion on teaching mindfulness skills to children, even pre-schoolers, through programmes and activities like breathing buddies, peace corners, traffic light imaging and social and emotional learning.

Research shows disadvantaged kids who learn to self-regulate their emotions learn better and go on to attain similar earnings and health outcomes as those from higher socio-economic groups (these latest findings coming from our very own Dunedin Multidisciplinary study).

In summary, Focus was an interesting read and while my interests lie in the application of focused attending and a more open awareness toward experience Goleman did cover this but not in the depth I personally would have liked.

However, his application to the business world is still extremely relevant and the insights he offers, while not ground-breaking, make sense because of the importance of self-awareness to how we relate to others and the world around us.

Review by Dr Brian Tuck, Programme Coordinator, Mental Health, Whanganui UCOL

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section

 


How children succeed grit curiosity and the hidden power of character15 October 2014

How children succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character

Tough, P. (2013) Mariner Books

The recommendations on the back of How children succeed suggest the audience for the book is parents. For example, "in his personal, thought-provoking and timely book, Paul Tough offers a clarion call to parents who are seeking to unlock their child’s true potential – and ensure they really succeed". And maybe for the publishers, this is just the audience they wish to attract; parents with money to spend on self-help books. And, true, understanding the science and economic arguments Tough so clearly and carefully uses as well as the real life examples drawn from his meticulous research probably will inform middle-class parents and strengthen the skills many of them already have in ensuring success for their offspring.

But the real purpose and strength of this book, I believe, is the clarion call to educators, social workers, health professionals, policy makers and, particularly, politicians who have the passion to make a difference for those most at risk of failure in society; those living in poverty.

A beautifully crafted book

This beautifully crafted book argues the life chances of those most at risk of poor outcomes can be changed, especially in the first 15 years of their lives. The main message – in the right conditions, character can be taught and learned. Character, Tough defines as skills like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control. It is one of the most convincing arguments I have read that IQ is a myth; that we can change both how we think and how we behave under certain productive conditions.

The author presents an argument that builds from early life experiences through childhood and adolescence bringing together examples from (among others) health, psychology, chess and education to demonstrate why character matters, what it means, and how this might be achieved, particularly for those most at risk of failure.

Tough structures an argument for changing social outcomes through integrated health initiatives, parenting, social policy AND education. He convincingly argues why it is not raising achievement levels that will save both individuals and economies (although that is one enticing outcome of this argument), but rather through addressing the character development of our children. This is not an easy-to-read self-help book. This means those most likely to buy and read it are probably those least likely to need it!

Reviewed by Dr Mary F. Hill
Mary Hill is an associate professor at the Faculty of Education, University of Auckland. Her research and teaching addresses educational assessment, particularly teacher classroom assessment practices. Currently her main research concern is preparing teachers who can teach children from all backgrounds and cultures how to take responsibility for their own learning by using assessment for learning.

This review first appeared on the Mental Health Awareness Week website's Good Reads section


john kirwan stand by me high res8 October 2014

Stand by Me: Helping your teen through tough times

Kirwan, J. (2014) Penguin

Sir John Kirwan’s latest book is a great addition to his first, and one I will add to my bookshelf as a quick “hands on” reference to help with my teenage stepson.

It’s not that my stepson is, as far as I know, experiencing mental illness, but he’s 14 and the grunting has started – so how do I really know?

And that’s the beauty of Stand by Me – it isn’t just for parents who have children in the throes of mental distress, it’s relevant and extremely helpful for all parents wanting to do a better job bringing up and listening to their teens.

It digs down into the ways and reasons that teenagers hide their feelings and what you can do to gently bring them out of themselves and support them unconditionally when they tell you something you may not want to hear.

The book is factual in that it has statistics and best practice for identifying and managing mental illness in youth, practical in that it has so many wonderful and generous comments from teens and their parents about how to do, and how not to do, things, and compassionate with JK’s warmth and frankness about his own mental health and natural everyday concerns for his three teens.

Like All Blacks Don’t Cry, this new book is a page turner. The chapters are short and to the point, which makes for easy digestion, and usually hold at least one pearl of wisdom.

Anxiety – give your fear a cuddle

My favourite is John’s idea that anxiety, or fear, should be cuddled, rather than run away from or hidden.

“The last thing that ugly creature wants is a cuddle. So grab hold of it and give it a cuddle – this breaks it down a bit and take the fear out of it,” JK says (page 51).

This makes me giggle, and I’ll remember it next time I need to exercise some self-management.

Chapters include topics such as teen anxiety and depression, the teenage brain, getting out of it, self-harm, eating disorders and suicide, warning signs – when to worry, how involved should parents be, loving the real child, hope, resilience (excellent) and wellbeing.

Advice and information from psychologists Elliot Bell and Kirsty Louden-Bell are necessary I think to give the book more professional weight than just having JK’s voice alone, as entertaining and valuable as that may be.

Depression is like a tree in winter

The occasional comments here and there from psychiatrist Lyndy Matthews are refreshingly down to earth and strategically placed by freelance writer Margie Thomson, who, in John’s own words, did much of the heavy lifting in the writing of Stand by Me. Lyndy’s description of how nerve cells affected by depression are like a tree in winter (page 114) is a beautiful and easily understood concept.

The only annoyances the book held for me were that Elliot’s information tended toward the impenetrable (what is an objective circumstance, for instance?) and could certainly have been more user friendly; the summaries at the end of each chapter were often unwieldy and difficult to read: grey text in grey boxes. And I would have liked a photograph of the psychologists, and Lyndy, to relate better to who had been talking to me.

Otherwise, bravo, an awesome resource for Kiwi parents and caregivers bringing up teens with or without experience of mental illness.

Reviewed by Susie Hill, Website Consultant with the Mental Health Foundation.


LiveAndLaughWithDementia 011 October 2014

Live and laugh with dementia: the essential guide to maximising quality of life

Low, L.F, (2014) Exisle Publishing

Lee-Fay Low is a leading researcher in the field of dementia in Australia. What this book acknowledges is that her grandmother had vascular dementia and it is therefore a human story of those living with dementia as well as their carers, families and friends.

Her introduction reminds us that, although she is an expert on dementia in general, the best expert on the person with dementia you are looking after is you, the carer. You are asked to add two key ingredients to the book: your knowledge about the person with dementia and your creativity in selecting and modifying activities.

Piecing together a life story

The components of the life history of the person with dementia are the first step. Where they were born; where they spent their childhood; where they lived; places that are special to them and why. Who are or were the important people in their life, what was the relationship like and what is it currently like?

Activities, such as their jobs, what they did in their spare time and, of particular interest, what they still do in their spare time, are important in maintaining their activities. If they are able to contribute personally, it is possible for them to share their past and present and also talk about things they have always wanted to do. There is a life history worksheet for activity planning, as well as four case studies which are invaluable when the carer follows their lives and activities.

Although laughter would not be associated with dementia in many people’s minds, as I read this book I recalled attending one carers’ meeting where a woman said she went to them regularly and laughed out loud, rather than staying at home and crying alone.

Asking the right questions

The book also contains tips for people with mild or moderate dementia, who can think back through their lives and re-experience the feelings associated with the past. Those memories can be aroused frequently if carers find that they bring smiles and laughter to the one they care for by asking just the right questions.

One of the case histories is of a woman who enjoyed singing. The family found ways of connecting with her through popular songs from the past, nursery rhymes, Christmas carols, traditional songs, hymns and classical music. A collection of her favourites gave her many pleasurable hours, even when she was alone.

There is so much wisdom, based on research and life experience in this book, that I intend to buy my own copy before I need to begin seeking help for myself or others close to me, to maximise quality of life for as long as the years allow.

Reviewed by Marie Hull-Brown, Mental Health Promoter with a special interest in older people, at the Mental Health Foundation.


emotional intelligence 185x300

24 September 2014

Emotional Intelligence

Goleman, D. (2006) Bantam Books 

Daniel Goleman is an academic, psychologist, science journalist and author of more than 10 books on psychology, education, science, the ecological crisis, and leadership. 

He is a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and a contributor to the Greater Good magazine from the Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley. 

Goleman has pursued a life-long interest in how people develop empathy to help each other. Many of the values and actions he promotes have a lot in common with those of the Mental Health Foundation.

A dense academic text

Emotional Intelligence covers subjects such as the emotional brain; looking at the physical make-up of the brain with the inter-relationship between the cortex and the limbic system. 

Goleman portrays emotional intelligence as the moderation of primitive emotional impulses by a person’s rational mind. 

He then goes on to look at the relationship between IQ and emotional intelligence as well as focusing on disturbances where the emotional intelligence is unrestrained and there is consequential anger or depression.

Being emotionally intelligent

Emotionally intelligent people who practice self-awareness, empathy and can articulate their feelings achieve greater success across life. 

Goleman discusses different situations where a person’s emotional responses are shaped such as traumatic situations, early child development and parenting styles as well as temperament. 

He puts forward education programmes which have been shown to improve a person’s emotional intelligence.

Influential, watershed book

So is this a book you need to read? Emotional Intelligence is an influential, watershed and best-selling book that changed people’s ideas about the importance of emotions in everyday life and therefore it is well worth reading. 

It comes from a scientific base and I agree it is important to promote evidence-based solutions to social and emotional issues. 

I think it appeals to a wide-ranging audience interested in psychology, education, child development and self-development. 

However, not everyone will enjoy it. I found it was not written in an easily accessible style and it felt old-fashioned and American in its focus. 

There is now a range of more easily read literature available on emotional growth and regulation which is also mirrored in the therapy field with the development of DBT and other approaches.

However it needs emphasising that Goleman’s amazing  piece of scholarship outlined in Emotional Intelligence has been influential in initiating and progressing this whole field of work.

Reviewed by Dale Little, Mental Health Promoter with the Mental Health Foundation.


Loving someone with bpd17 September 2014

Loving someone with Borderline Personality Disorder: How to keep out-of-control emotions from destroying your relationship

Manning, S.Y. (2011) Guilford Press

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a psychiatric diagnosis associated with serious forms of self-harm.

It can also manifest as angry outbursts and verbal abuse, binging/purging , drug/alcohol abuse, and suicidal behaviour.

Because of their extreme emotional sensitivity and reactivity, people with BPD often have intense and tumultuous relationships with those around them.

Borderline behaviour can be particularly hard to understand and friends and family can often feel frustrated, overwhelmed and confused.

A compassionate insight

This book provides those close to someone with BPD a compassionate insight into their loved one’s out-of-control emotions.

Author Shari Y. Manning, PhD, offers practical, step-by-step strategies for readers to help their loved one and themselves.

Due to the nature of BPD, well-meaning partners, family and friends can find that their own responses to the disorder are often ineffective and can even be harmful.

Readers are shown what they can do differently to support someone with BPD, while caring for their own mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Easy to understand concepts

One of the most effective treatments for BPD is Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT).

Manning, a clinician, is a proponent of leading BPD expert and DBT originator Marsha Linehan.

Manning has focused on the treatment of people with BPD since 1993.This is the first book written specifically for friends and family that is grounded in DBT techniques.

This is not a clinical text and Manning outlines the concepts of DBT in a way that a lay-person can understand.

Validating emotional distress

Some of the DBT skills discussed include mindfulness, emotional regulation, crisis survival, reality acceptance and interpersonal skills.

Another important technique highlighted is the importance of validating someone with BPD’s emotional distress.

Acknowledging that they are upset or feeling bad can help to reduce the intensity of their emotions. It also counters with what NOT to do, such as telling the person to calm down thereby invalidating how they feel which is likely to make their emotional arousal go up instead of down.

Other unhelpful responses include telling the person how they should be feeling; jumping in to problem solve without being asked, and saying that you understand how they feel when you don’t.

Responding to a crisis

How to respond to crisis situations, such as suicidal behaviour are also addressed.

Helpful techniques include: telling your loved one how much their suicide would affect you; acknowledging that the person’s pain is real and expressing that you have hope for the person even if they currently feel hopeless themselves.

BPD can occur in different degrees on a spectrum, with some people appearing quite high functioning and competent in many areas of their life.

Some readers with a lesser degree of BPD may not be able to relate to some of the behaviours described in the book.

On the other hand, the book doesn’t provide advice on how to manage more extreme behaviours such as rage and physical attacks.

The book’s advice on interpersonal skills and techniques such as validation, would benefit many people interested in improving their communication skills, not just those with BPD in their lives.

It provides an easy to understand overview of DBT and a compassionate and empathic insight into Borderline Personality Disorder.

Reviewed by Karen Issell, volunteer for the Information Service at the Mental Health Foundation.

 


 

Capturing mindfulness10 September 2014

Capturing mindfulness: A guide to becoming present through photography

Johnstone, M, (2013) Pan Macmillan

When Capturing Mindfulness A guide to becoming present through photography needed reviewing I was intrigued. I have been taking the opportunity to learn about mindfulness and I am also an avid photographer. The book has sat next to me for a while and I have enjoyed flicking through looking at the pictures however, it has taken a reminder the book review is due to get me to read it!  

The first section of the book is about becoming mindful, illustrated by some beautiful photographs.

Author Matthew Johnstone, of I had a black dog fame, explains mindfulness "as the act of paying close attention to what we are doing, where we are and what we're thinking; all without judgement or self-criticism, all with a slow and gentle intention." 

The reader is guided through the mindful process. I could not help being drawn in and start relaxing; having meditated for a number of years I found this quite easy to do. 

Choose photo shoot locations carefully

Johnstone then goes on to explain how to become present through taking photographs, bringing attention to the present moment; by using photography to look at the world as though seeing it for the first time. 

I grabbed my camera and headed into the garden to take pictures of blue flowers. I noticed the bees and the tuis playing in the garden and tried to photograph them, this was frustrating so I went back to my flowers and noticed the weeds. 

Perhaps next time I will go to the botanic gardens or the beach; somewhere where I won’t be reminded of chores to be done!

This is a beautiful book that I have enjoyed flicking through. I will definitely be trying to spend more time with my camera and focusing on the present.

Reviewed by Michelle Hull, Mental Health Promoter with the Mental Health Foundation.
 

 


 

 

Managing depression growing older3 September 2014

Managing Depression, Growing Older: A guide for professionals and carers

Eyers, K., Parker, G., & Brodaty, H. (2012) Routledge

“Age is something that catches us by surprise” begins this small but comprehensive book.

With increased life expectancy and the bumper crop of baby boomers now reaching retirement age, this new publication from the Australian Black Dog Institute is a timely addition to our understanding of depression in later years.

The world is getting older, but as the editors of Managing Depression point out, ageing itself is not a disease. And depression, while no stranger to old age, is not an inevitable companion either.

Current world rates of clinical depression are said to be no higher for older people than for other age groups. Though these rates may reflect the fact many older people are reluctant to seek treatment, are misdiagnosed, or not referred for treatment in the first place.

The statistics may also reflect the stigma remaining around “admitting weakness” or about having a psychiatric illness.

That said, the risk of suicide climbs steeply with age, especially among men, and older people who experience chronic pain or illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, as well as those in residential care who experience high rates of clinical depression.

Dual perspectives

This book is intended for professionals and carers involved with older people and for people who themselves experience, or have experienced depression.

Its point of difference from other similar texts is that it includes perspectives from both those who experience depression or its impact, as well a series of case studies, from international psychogeriatric (will someone please come up with a better word!?) experts.

The stories of experience of depression from older people, their children and those who care for them, come from the Black Dog Institute’s writing competition in 2010. The stories are insightful and many readers will be able to empathise with the writers, or perhaps think about someone in their lives in a whole new light.

Despite the somewhat gloomy topic, the stories are immensely readable. Here’s a quote from Alistair: “The black dog comes to you. Never whistled, never welcome and never leaving until good and ready. What kind of reward is that for someone finishing nearly 50 years in the workforce?”

Refreshing honesty

The clinicians/experts too, write with a refreshing honesty about the puzzle that depression can be, not only because it is such a diffuse term, but also because in older people it can manifest differently.

For example, depression will often present via physical symptoms that can camouflage underlying emotional issues in older people. Often GPs don’t think, or are not trained, to ask the emotional questions.

This inside out and outside in format is interspersed with chapters on the types of depression, (the Black Dog Institute uses a hierarchical and more comprehensive model of depression than some clinical models); therapies and the role of therapists; managing severe depression; caring for carers, and, particularly useful, how to go about persuading an older loved one or friend to seek an assessment for depression.

There is also a section on self-efficacy in older age and strategies for maintaining a positive outlook, such as connection to communities, exercise, good nutrition etc. I particularly liked the advice to, “figure out your signature strengths… and then try and find avenues in life to exercise them.”

Typeface needs work

The construction of this book may sound a bit messy, but it allows the reader to dip in and out of what otherwise might be quite a dense read.

One technical niggle, hard on those of us who are sight-challenged, is that on almost every page the typeface runs together in some places so that wordsonthepageappearjoinedtogetherlikethis. Initially I thought I was going cross-eyed.

The book’s main message is that depression is treatable, and that support should be sought as early as possible. Publication of this book is a step in the direction of, as is the editors’ expressed wish, reducing the double stigma of ageism and mental illness.

Reviewed by Katherine Findlay, writer and editor

We acknowledge Unitec Marae Te Noho Kotahitanga and master carver Lyonel Grant, the weavers and support team for allowing the MHF to use images of the wharenui on this page.