My Review of The A-Z Guide To Good Mental Health: You Don’t Have to Be Famous to Have Manic Depression

…and other such delights are available in the new issues of “One in Four” magazine. 

One in Four fights stigma and exclusion by challenging negative images of people with mental health difficulty, dispelling myths and increasing understanding.

Go and look, it’s the Bran Flakes of publishing, full of good stuff!  

For those who cannot be bothered to click the above link (and shame on you), this is what I wrote (the edited version).  

Oh, what I didn’t mention is that it had a foreword by Stephen Fry.  So it has a forward by Stephen Fry.

When I was first diagnosed with manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, my well-meaning psychiatrist adjusted his geography teacher cuffs and penned an extensive reading list that he hoped would help educate me about my condition. I found myself lost in Waterstones, too nervous to ask the shop assistant which book would be most helpful. I skimmed the titles, sidestepping at least five Madnesses ‘, a few Angels and, worst of all, How to Love Someone With Bipolar Disorder , as though people like me were an exotic subspecies who required our cages cleaning out every two days.   There was also the bafflingly titled How to Survive Bipolar Disorder: What You and Your Family Need To Know , a book crying out for a Protect and Survive style television marketing campaign.

The fact that many people find these books helpful is beyond doubt. That there are books out there that aim to deconstruct bipolar disorder at all is encouraging. But I do wince when these sorts of books fall into my lap. They are so earnest. The self-help tone, while useful, gives the impression that if you dare crack a smile at a slightly melodramatic line of text, a pop-up author will spring from the pages and wag an accusatory finger at you.

When I was asked to review The A-Z Guide To Good Mental Health: You Don’t Have to Be Famous to Have Manic DepressionI expected more of the same.

The book is split into three sections. The first is a collection of conversations between the manic depressive author, Jeremy Thomas, and his doctor, Tony Hughes. These conversations are organised by subject, such as ‘Love, Relationships and Manic Depression’ and ‘Obstacles to Work’. This section of the book introduces something not usually seen in mental health selfhelp books: humour. Jeremy’s retelling of his various manic exploits and his doctor’s views upon them are gloriously amusing and refreshingly free of the dour dramatics of much mental health literature. Thomas talks of his episodes of illness and wellness with candour and illustrates his successes and failures without slipping into self-congratulation or self-pity. The dialogue between the two men is jokey, sometimes even flippant, but it is a welcome change to the normal hesitation and guardedness that surrounds mental illness.

The second section of the book features life stories from ordinary people discussing their own experiences with manic depression and how they’re living with the illness.

Lastly, an ‘A-Z’ guides the reader through a wealth of subjects such as acceptance, anxiety, alcoholism, conditions that exist alongside bipolar disorder, what a mixed episode is, medication and types of treatment. It examines the social problems faced by those who live with mental illness, like stigma, barriers to employment, the effect that mental health problems can have upon personal relationships and the difficulties in receiving proper help for mental health problems. It steers clear of jargon and impersonal medical terminology and features a large collection of useful organizations and links.

The clear, light manner in which difficult subjects are tackled is both refreshing and comforting. It avoids the sensationalism of other books and neither suggests that the illness is a stepping-stone to creative genius nor damns it as an end to normal life. It also explores common, yet little discussed issues faced by those with mental health problems, such as denial, the turmoil of separating illness from personality and the social taboo of openly talking about living with mental health difficulty.

The A-Z Guide To Good Mental Health: You Don’t Have to Be Famous to Have Manic Depression could be renamed, ‘A Beginners’ Guide to Manic Depression’. It is an ideal book for those who have been newly diagnosed with the condition and for those who wish to know more about how it feels.


The A-Z Guide to Good Mental Health: You Don’t Have to Be Famous to Have Manic Depression by Jeremy Thomas and Tony Hughes (Penguin, £10.00, pbk, 336 pages, 2008)


On re-reading it, I do have some criticisms.  The opening discourse between doctor and patient does include some very dismissive remarks about the side effects of medication, to whit, oh, what’s so bad about taking this pill for the rest of your life, I mean, I am fatter but so what?  Which is fair enough, that’s his experience, but it’s a bit more than than, especially if you’re taking more than one medication, and need to take others to deal with the side effects.

And it gave print space to that fucking idiot Max Carlish.

It could also veer into crunchy granola territory, but that’s a personal bugbear of mine.

Basically, it’s the only book on manic depression- other than Kay R Jamison’s books- that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with in public.  And Rob has had his head in for weeks and considers himself a citizen expert on manic depression.  He keeps telling me things he thinks I might not know!

11 Responses

  1. I liked it.
    I like An Unquiet Mind but thought Touched By Fire though interesting didn’t really prove a correlation between creative genius and bipolar – a quick back of napkin calculation says that at least some of us with bipolar need to be halfway talented.
    The only other books about it I could tolerate reading were those by Suzy Johnston and the companion piece by her mum but that probably has more to do with the fact I like sarcastic scottish girls who play guitar.

  2. Nicely balanced review, Seaneen. It sounds like a breath of fresh air. I was bought (or might have bought myself – everything is unclear from those days) the Bipolar Survival Guide (is that the same one?) – crap book. Perhaps useful for people who get diagnosed early in life, but even so, completely lacking in any verve, zip, vim or encouragement.

    The Jamieson books I enjoyed: Unquiet Mind I envied her her contacts; Touched By Fire I thought she was a little bit off on one but there is plenty food for thought. I found it disturbing that all of the people she talks about were my heros from my teens onwards til I ‘grew up’….

    I’m not going to get sidetracked into creativity/bipolar etc because when I finally write all my thoughts down I’ll do it on my own blog!

    Ok, enough. Take care, D

  3. that’s a good review and the book sounds interesting too! i’ve not been on the 1 in 4 site before but i think i’ll bookmark it, it looks interesting 🙂

  4. Nice review, certainly sparked my interest. Nice to see from the index that the book gives comorbid eating disorders a mention. The bit about social taboo sounds promising, and I suspect I’d benefit from reading the section on denial…

    I think I’ll go and lurk in Borders tomorrow and have a read!

  5. What do you mean with “crunchy granola territory”?

  6. I mean yoga, reiki, Omega 3, “hey! exercise! even if you feel so depressed you want to die, MOVE!” Which is fine but which I find a bit facile.

  7. maybe it would work to view the gym as potentially suicidal …


  8. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds that new age i’m ok you’re ok attitude facile. I find it passive aggressive as well, there’s a bit of the “if you tried hard enough, you’d magically get better, those eeeeevil pills are the easy way out” in it. (My response, no, the easy way out is for me to punch people who say shit like that in the face, but we won’t go there…).

    I hope the weather is better where you are because right now my toes are FREEZING.

  9. I think I’ll have to read it. It sounds interesting, whtaever it is.

  10. Why is Max Carlish an idiot?

  11. […] Interesting: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive has a book review. The clear, light manner in which difficult subjects are tackled is both refreshing and comforting. […]

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