Book, DVD & app reviews

Our Work / Book, DVD & app reviews

We publish regular book and 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.

Unseen city cover22 February 2017

Unseen City: The Majesty of Pigeons, the Discreet Charm of Snails & Other Wonders of the Urban Wilderness

Johnson, N. (2016). Rodale

Johnson is asking city dwellers to try a simple exercise – zero in on a bit of your surroundings. Notice, observe, and look for nature. He is out to prove a point: even in a city, there’s wilderness all around, waiting to be seen.

In this easy to read urban ramble, Johnson redefines what wilderness means to the modern world. Having grown up in the Sierra Nevada foothills where he knew the names of all the trees, he’d become a stranger to nature in urban San Francisco.

When his daughter Josephine started pointing to trees and asking, “What’s that?” on their preschool route, Johnson didn’t have answers. He wanted her to have more than just, “It’s a tree” to describe her world. So began his quest, and along the way they discover nature previously unseen; the beauty and intrigue, the everyday and ordinary.

Learning to see the world like a child, Johnson argues, is a shift in thinking about nature. From something “out there”, nature becomes part of our everyday lives and part of us, like feeding pigeons. “To play with a wild thing provides some common ground for neighbours who may have nothing in common. This kind of casual shared experience is the foundation of friendship and, ultimately, of community.”

But how do you have an experience of natural wonder without leaving the city? Johnson sets the goal of learning about one new species per month. That pace, he writes, “Prods me to make an effort, but in a leisurely fashion”.

Universal ideas

While this book is a window into middle-class North America, the ideas of building community and growing great families through spending time in nature are universal and timeless. Perhaps there is less divide between nature and people in New Zealand, but as we become one of the most urbanised countries in the world, a reminder to notice nature, to explore and wonder and to make time to get out with the family could be the foundation to growing strong communities and a sense of kaitiakitanga.

After all, even in cities, trees trap carbon improving air quality. Green spaces are places to move and breath, exercise and play together and green views help decrease stress, improve mental health, and make us more productive.

Johnson argues, "Instead of glorifying only untouched wilderness, we might build an environmental ethic that allows humans and nature to live together". To me, Johnson attempts to build an environmental ethic that sees, values and respects nature. And along with some time together outside, that’s a good recipe for a better world.

Reviewed by Annabelle Studholme, Community Ranger at the Department of Conservation.


Our boys cover image8 February 2017

Our Boys: Raising Strong, Happy Sons from Boyhood to Manhood

Aston, R. & Kerr, R. (2016). Allen & Unwin.

When I read this book, so many of the parenting tensions and disagreements I’ve had with my partner, Jake, were re-framed and laid out plainly. Jake and I have two young boys, Rawiri (8) and Tamati (6).

I had a whole series of, “Oh” and, “Ouch” and, “Hey hang on... well no... you could have something there” moments. There's parenting gold in these pages!

The authors, who have a blended family with four kids, have key roles in the boys mentoring organisation Big Buddy. They clearly know a lot about boys and have thoughtfully laid out the chapters in stages relating to age, eg, 1. Hush Little Baby: The First Four Years, 2. Stepping Out: 4 to 7 Years, 3. The Explorer: 8 to 11 Years etc.

A book full of parenting gems

There are so many gems in this book, but there are two points that really stuck with me. Attachment is where it's at! Be with your boy as much as you possibly can, do stuff together, talk about that stuff then do more stuff. Watch who your little guy is, learn what he loves and get comfortable with who he is becoming. He needs your full acceptance.

The second is that it’s time for mum to step back, ouch! But I get it... now. Boys learn to be good men from watching and being with men, so surround them with good-hearted men and trust that while you might not understand the value of farting on cue or dad jokes, something mystical is at play here.

Oh and relax, you won't be on the bench forever. Maybe I'll use this “down time” for myself! #silverlining.

Tracey Sparksman, former Programme Design and Delivery Specialist, Mental Health Foundation.


Trauma is really strange cover25 January 2017

Trauma is Really Strange

Haines, S. (2015). Singing Dragon.

This is a useful introduction to how trauma affects the brain and nervous system and what people can do to overcome the effects in everyday life. My knowledge was updated (e.g our response to threat is more than just ‘fight or flight’). The book doesn’t address the most severe effects of early trauma – when someone has developed separate self-states to keep the awareness out of daily life (dissociative identity disorder). It’s in line with current thinking and refers to well-known researchers. The tone is encouraging and optimistic.

The graphic nature is inviting and the style is modern and although there are characters with dark and light skin, the main character is white and male. I was also disappointed to find small font text at the foot of most pages. It’s either a graphic book or it’s not! This text made unhelpfully brief references to other ideas and research. The references are cunningly concealed inside the cover flap.

The book starts well enough with a real-life example of transient dissociation but this is followed by a confusing mixture of symptoms of dissociation, hyperarousal /panic and shaking/tremors (restless legs are not a sign of shock).

Good introduction to trauma

The introduction to trauma which follows is good; wide-ranging and thought-provoking. It has three sections: trauma exists, we can heal from its effects, and healing involves the way our brains manage our bodies so our bodies have to get involved (talking therapy is not enough).

The second half examines how the brain and nervous system respond to threat. I didn’t find the explanation of the “new vagus” and “old vagus” control systems adequate. However, the three-stage response to threat (orient, mobilise, immobilise) was well done.

The next section uses helpful similes to explain the working of the amygdala and hippocampus, and how a neutral object or situation becomes a conditioned stimulus evoking unconditioned (inborn) anxiety responses.

Book could have been better organised

I didn’t find the book well-organised; section headings or title pages would have helped me track the progression from overview to specifics and keep track of the three sections of the introduction.

The final quarter describes techniques and principles for healing. This collection risks giving a simplistic impression but each is presented with a rationale which draws on previous pages and together they support the book’s thesis that we can heal from trauma by understanding how our brain and nervous system work. There is a useful summing up.

Reviewed by Margaret Graham, Senior Clinical Psychologist.


emotional agility21 December 2016

Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life

David, S. (2016). Penguin Random House.

This book provides simple, practical advice to allow people to make changes in all areas of their lives. It’s clearly and concisely written by renowned psychologist Susan David.

Emotional Agility walks you through why you can become stuck, and steps you can take to rectify this and truly flourish. The author carefully balances real life examples with academic research to back up her methodology for a new way of living, which she says can enhance your life greatly.

David writes about becoming aware of your true nature, accepting and facing your emotions and acting in accordance with your deepest values. She provides anecdotes and examples to help you understand how you can make these changes.

For those specifically looking for help raising children or in the workplace, there are separate chapters dealing with both of these.

There are no set exercises to work through so if that's what you're looking for this is probably not the right book for you. But for everybody else, this makes for an accessible and easy to read book on the topic of emotional agility.

Reviewed by Cory Stewart, Health Promotion Consultant.


The sound of silence cover image14 December 2016

The Sound of Silence

Goldsaito, K. (2016). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

The words and illustrations in this story come together beautifully to tell the story of little Yoshio who lives in Tokyo, Japan.

He’s curious about his world, particularly sounds. He meets an elderly woman playing the koto, a traditional stringed instrument, who tells him that the most beautiful sound is in fact “ma” (silence). As he moves through the hustle and bustle of the day, Yoshio eventually becomes aware that silence is always there too, if only you learn how to notice it.

When I first spotted a promotional blurb for this recently published book for the 5–9 age range, I thought it might tick a lot of the Five Ways to Wellbeing boxes and it did not disappoint. The story encourages children to be curious, to contemplate, to get out and explore, connect with others, and to be respectful of the passing of knowledge between generations.

Book encourages questions

My seven-year-old son got fully involved in the story trying out the ever-changing sounds with Yoshio and asking questions about Japanese culture and customs.

Important values are portrayed through the story – respect for elders, rituals, music, the environment and studying. One thing that left me wondering was that even though Japan is a leader in mobile phone technology and use, in the beautifully detailed and busy illustrations of people, there is not a device in sight.

The background information contained within the afterword added depth to the story and connection to the author and illustrator’s lives.

Children get to experience this story through multiple senses, and they come away perhaps a little curious to reflect on their own lives to see if they can find pockets of silence among all the noise.

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


Addiction by design cover7 December 2016

Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas

Dow Schüll, N. (2012). Princeton University Press

Electronic gambling machines (also called pokies or slot machines) are considered the most harmful form of gambling in New Zealand and around the world. The fast-paced play, sensory stimulation, and never-ending cycle of betting and chasing losses have been proven time and again to be associated with high rates of problem gambling.

One of the most eye-opening books on electronic gambling machines in recent years comes not from a problem gambling counsellor or mental health professional, but from an anthropologist. Natasha Dow Schüll, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spent a decade and a half carrying out research in Las Vegas to discover why the casino-filled city has been throwing out the traditional games to make room for more pokies.

The dangers of entering “the zone”

Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas shows how the gambling industry has designed pokies that encourage players to enter the zone, Schüll's name for the hyper-focused state of the solitary punter who ignores everything but the lights and sounds of the machine.

One of Schüll's most shocking discoveries is that problem pokie players who get caught in the zone differ from other gamblers because they aren't playing to win. Schüll writes, "… it is not the chance of winning to which they become addicted; rather, what addicts them is the world-dissolving state of subjective suspension and affective calm they derive from machine play."

While a punter betting on a horse race or roulette wheel might be seeking the excitement of a big win, a pokie player is after a numbing escape from their troubles. A woman Schüll interviewed described it as being, "in the eye of the storm… your vision is clear on the machine in front of you but the whole world is spinning around you, and you can't really hear anything".

Psychology of players revealed

The in-depth book also discusses how the layout and interior design of casinos has evolved to facilitate the explosion of pokies, and how the sophisticated data-gathering methods of the gambling industry tell them far more than customers think they’re sharing. Finally, the book discusses the psychology of the players, with several interviews revealing how the forces at work in their lives led them to the pokies for escape.

I found the section on "the double bind of therapeutics" to be very interesting. Clients of problem gambling counselling services in Las Vegas describ the anxieties of living in constant close proximity to pokies, something many New Zealanders can identify with, especially those who live in areas where pokie venues are densely clustered.

Counsellors must understand the effects of the zone to truly understand the difficulties their clients face. When getting trapped in the zone produces the same calming effects as anti-anxiety medication or other therapies, the line between addiction and treatment can become blurry and their recovery efforts can work against them.

Reviewed by Nathan Burgess, Research Librarian at the Problem Gambling Foundation of New Zealand. (The Problem Gambling Library has a a range of resources from NZ and around the world available to the public).


Rising tide cover image30 November 2016

Rising Tide

Dickson, S. (2016). Kōtuku Creative

Sarina Dickson and Julie Burgess-Manning are the pair responsible for the very popular Worry Bug resources (Maia and the Worry Bug and Wishes and Worries) brought about as support for children after the Christchurch earthquakes. However, don’t be put off if your child or students haven’t experienced, or don’t remember the earthquakes. This book appeals to any child with worries, and includes excellent strategies to help.

Rising Tide is Dickson’s new book, but for older aged children (Year 5–8). Cleverly however, Rising Tide is not Maia and The Worry Bug for older children. It’s a fresh, new story fully created on its own accord. Everything about it screams 8–12 year olds – the physical size of the book, the cover page illustration, and the use of minimal illustrations throughout.

The book centres on nearly ten-year-old Ari who lives with his parents and two sisters. The hooks come quickly – Ari has secrets. While these hold our interest in the story, it’s reassuring for us with our own, and there’s a subtle focus on Ari believing he’s the only one that suffers from his secret which keeps him feeling isolated and ashamed.

Creative lesson plans included

What captured me were the skills and strategies both Ari and his Dad use to manage and cope with things. The back of the book is filled with creative lesson plans for school use. I was impressed by the immediate connection Dickson makes between home and school and the extension of activities from interpersonal relationships to communities and environments.

A part of this focus is brought to self-fulfilling prophecies – our beliefs that we are the way we think we are, and how this relates to worry. This is of course challenged, and looks to embed a growth (rather than fixed) mind-set understanding. Because I’m not a teacher, my thoughts come from a parent perspective – do I want my children exposed to, and learning about this? Absolutely.

Useful strategies embedded

This is unmistakably a New Zealand/Aotearoa story – the use of Māori and the descriptions of what Ari notices in his rural township are so familiar. At no stage did I consider the themes in the book as having to relate to the Christchurch earthquakes. The strategies embedded in the story are useful for any young person whether they worry a lot or a little.

My daughter gave Rising Tide a solid eight out of 10. She told me it was “relatable” and that, “If I have secrets that feel really big and kinda out of control, I’d talk to someone… [like] you, nan or maybe dad.” Perfect. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Reviewed by Anna Mowat, Family Advisor at All Right?


More attention less deficit cover 00223 November 2016

More Attention, Less Deficit: Success Strategies for Adults with ADHD

Tuckman, A. (2009). Specialty Press, Inc.

Being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult can come as a huge relief. After years of wondering why things don’t work out as planned, knowing there might be a neurological reason can be highly validating.

But after that sense of relief has worn off, often comes the question, “Now what do I do”? It’s after a diagnosis of ADHD that the real work begins and Tuckman’s book is a good place to start that process.

Tuckman says, “The more you know about ADHD, the better off you will be…” and as a psychologist specialising in working with adults with ADHD, he has written this book to offer that foundation of knowledge that the ADHDer needs.

There’s a dizzying number of books now available to help the ADHD adult learn about this disorder. However, More Attention, Less Deficit offers a thorough, direct and complete overview.

The book is written to be ADHD user-friendly. It’s designed to be dipped into as needed, by topic, rather than read front to back.

Tuckman explains what ADHD is and how it can complicate just about every aspect of life from a personal level to work or career, meeting household responsibilities and intimate relationships.

Range of treatment options covered

He covers the question of treatment including the use of ADHD medication as well as other non-medical ways to approach treating ADHD, including working with a coach who specialises in ADHD issues.

Next to having a good grasp of what ADHD is, the use of strategies for working around ADHD challenges is most essential. Tuckman covers the most useful ones, how to make those strategies suit the individual and importantly, how to help other household members get on board with new strategies.

Tuckman is honest but doesn’t sugar-coat the matter. He’s seen countless individuals through his practice whose lives are troubled by ADHD so he doesn’t have a lot to say about the up-side or the “gifts” of ADHD.

ADHD may not be curable but with knowledge and use of strategies to suit the individual it can cease to feel like a deficit and more like simply a difference or even—dare we say it—a gift!

For the ADHD adult who wants to get to know ADHD and him/herself as quickly and directly as possible, this book is a good bet.

Reviewed by Brett Harrington, ADHD Association board member. (The ADHD Association has a library, which is free to use for association members).


2 November 2016

Down on the Farm image 1Down on the Farm: Mental health and rural families in the South

O'Hara, Y. (2016). Central Rural Life/Southern Rural Life

As a child, some of my best memories of rural New Zealand involve salty porridge, searching for eggs in a chicken coop, picking mushrooms, bouncing around on the back of a trailer feeding out hay to hungry cows, and eating plums and extremely tart apples straight off the trees.

As a townie, farms were exciting places to spend the holidays. There was always something new to do and it was almost always fun for someone who didn’t have to do it day in and day out.

It’s this pressure of living and breathing farming on a daily basis that journalist Yvonne O’Hara explores in her Down on the Farm series.

The Allied Press reporter looks at how farmers love working outdoors and enjoy the tangible results of their labour – but also how exposed they are to economic downturns and isolation.

Yvonne’s latest publication, Down on the Farm: mental health and rural families in the South, concentrates on the families of farmers.

The four-page resource has been distributed as a newspaper supplement, and gets straight to the point by acknowledging the stress many farming families are under.

Practical information contained in resource

Stories from educators, counsellors and specialist rural and mental health services explore the signs and symptoms of families who may be under pressure.

By discussing these experiences, readers can recognise their own family situation and begin to understand there are other people facing the same challenges – that there is no need to feel shame, and that they are not alone.

Of major benefit is the practical information contained in the resource. Each page is accompanied by the names and contact details for people and organisations working to improve the mental wellbeing of Kiwi farmers, as well as information boxes on what to watch for and what you can do.

Yvonne conveys the strong sense of community in rural areas; how people watch out for each other and how neighbours, friends and professionals are prepared to step in and support families in distress.

We’re reminded that farmers and their families are less inclined to talk about what is troubling them. However, Yvonne’s message is clear: It’s OK, and necessary, to ask for help.

With all 39,000 print copies now distributed, Down on the Farm: mental health and rural families in the South is currently available in PDF format only. Yvonne’s first publication, Down on the Farm: depression and mental health in the rural South is also available in PDF format.

As a resource, Down on the Farm is well written and has been well received.

Reviewed by Cate Hennessy, Media Grants Coordinator at the Mental Health Foundation.


Wishes and worries book cover28 September 2016

Wishes and Worries

Dickson, S. (2015). Kōtuku Creative

Wishes and Worries was written in response to the Christchurch earthquakes to help children who are experiencing mild to moderate anxiety.

It’s designed for use in classrooms, while its companion Maia and the Worry Bug is designed for children to take home.

When my partner and son brought Wishes and Worries home in their weekly pile from the local library, I could see its immediate value. Our son has become increasingly worried about noises in the night and robbers.

Even though Wishes and Worries is intended as a classroom resource, it was an easy night time read, engaging, beautifully illustrated and the content was affirming. The author is adept at being able to turn the principles of cognitive and narrative therapy into a compelling story.

Easy to relate to for kids

The main character Dan's worries and fears are disrupting his ability to enjoy everyday activities and stopping him having fun with his mates. My son could really relate to the character’s focus on noises and listening for sounds of danger.

Through Dan's journey, kids who may previously have felt powerless over their thoughts and feelings can see how they can “untangle” and identify their own worries. They learn to reflect on how these thoughts affect their thinking and their bodies, and to use their creativity to find ways to be with, or direct them.

You also get a good sense of how a child may feel misunderstood when adults around them may think they are just being difficult and that parents and teachers need to be aware of the expectations we put on them to just “get on” with everyday tasks.

We read through some of the suggestions for class activities at the back, many of which are student-led.

The availability of this book in schools to support the curriculum would help kids realise they are not alone, that others feel the same and that their school is supportive.

My son laughed out loud at the suggestion of putting a box in the principal's drawer that kids could put their written worries into. He decided he would instead send his worries into space on the Millennium Falcon (from Star Wars).

The book provides readers with valuable skills and normalises kids’ concerns, but also has a dash of magic, fun and hope.

Available in both English and Te Reo Maori.

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


Maia and the worry bug cover21 September 2106

Maia and the Worry Bug

Burgess-Manning, J. (2015). Kōtuku Creative

Maia and the Worry Bug is a story and resource book to help families experiencing mild to moderate anxiety manage their worries and understand anxiety better.

The book focuses on the affect the Christchurch earthquakes had on families and the anxiety and change they brought about. But I think the book would be beneficial to any family that is experiencing any kind of difficulties that come with change.

It’s a colourful book with exciting animations that will keep the attention of young kids. I think it’s a lovely story that can help give kids the words they might need in order to explain if, and when, they are feeling anxious, or when they notice their parents have become anxious.

Being American, I think this book would have been wonderful for many parents after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Toolbox helps families open up

I really enjoyed the family anxiety toolbox at the end of the book for families to see where their stress levels are and how to find ways to open up and talk about their worries.

The toolbox provides a space for families to write down their worries and ask questions like, “What does dad think mum’s worries are?” to help open up conversations for parents and kids to really understand what anxieties they have.

This book also provides space to write down all those worries and lock them away. “This is a way to stop worries from intruding all day long.”

I think this is a lovely book and I plan to get two copies for my nieces and my sisters in the United States.

Reviewed by Kate Cherven, Programme Engagement Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation.


Puppy mind cover14 September 2016

Puppy Mind

Nance, A. J. (2016, August). Plum Blossom

Puppy Mind is a picture book for adults and children that follows a young boy whose mind is like a puppy – always wandering around and distracted.

As the mum of a seven-year-old energetic boy, who I feel I’m always asking to focus or sit still, I was interested in reading this book with him.

The author compares the young boy’s mind to that of an untrained puppy’s. The young boy in the story sets about learning to gently train his puppy mind to heel to the present moment, rather than it wandering into the future or past.

My son liked the illustrations by Jim Durk, who also illustrated the Clifford the Big Red Dog and Thomas the Steam Engine books.

Book generates interesting discussions with son

He had some initial difficulty grasping the analogy that the boy discovers his mind is like a puppy. He was more interested in the relationship between the boy and puppy, and what the puppy was getting up to.

However, it did start some interesting discussions that helped me understand my son better. He explained to me that he can relate to the boy feeling frustrated by all the things demanded of him and, in particular his frustration at the noisy kids in his class!

He easily picked up the concept of taking three deeps breaths and showed me how to do this, and the importance of saying kind words to himself when discouraged.

Reading the book together was good as I could see how it could become a family project, with parents and children committing to practising the techniques in their everyday lives and discussing how it went.

The book itself is quite simplistic but is intended to generate questions. This process is supported with a discussion guide for parents and teachers.

We tend to over complicate things in life, so it’s nice to think there are so many benefits from such a simple action as following our breath to ground ourselves. 

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


mind over mood7 September 2016

Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think (second edition)

Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C.A. (2016). Guilford Press

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is probably the mostly widely used evidence-based therapy to treat mental illness.

Mind Over Mood, written by two leading clinical psychologists from the US, is a workbook designed for patients to learn CBT skills to treat and manage depression, anxiety and many other mental health conditions.

The book provides step-by-step methods on how to analyse thought patterns, complete with work sheets which are user-friendly and laid out in a cohesive, simple way.

Practical questionnaires and exercises

There are also lots of useful questionnaires to guide you on how to use the CBT methods to overcome challenges in a pragmatic way. I liked the summary boxes at the end of each chapter, which also include mood and goal checks, which encourage positive, mindful habits to practise.

Aside from the nuts-and-bolts strategies in Mind Over Mood, four case studies are outlined, which demonstrate the effectiveness of CBT. These real-life accounts break up a lot of information in the book that would be hard to navigate and absorb otherwise.

Originally published in 1995, it’s widely reported that many clinicians have used Mind Over Mood, in conjunction with using the accompanying clinician’s guide.

Mind Over Mood is not what I would call an easy read, but instead provides strong tools to learn the proven methods of CBT. Used as part of a wider therapy with a trained mental health professional, this book could make a big difference in the journey to wellness.

Reviewed by Paulette Crowley, freelance health writer.


app31 August 2016

MyPsyDiary app

The MyPsyDiary app helps you monitor and improve your wellbeing. It records and responds to your thoughts and emotions and contains psychological strategies to help you feel better.

Australian clinical psychologist Dr Amanda Commons Treloar developed the app to allow people to have a “pocket psychologist”. She’s really passionate about everybody having access to mental health support.

In an interview posted in Mobile App Spotlight, Commons Treloar talks about why she created the app.

“Last year I had a client whose personal journal was read by their family when it was discovered during moving house, and then another client who had a panic attack rang me during my lunch break and I had to talk them through it, but the client said to me, ‘I know this stuff so why can’t I do it now’?”

This prompted Commons Treloar to develop the MyPsyDiary app over a nine-month period. The app can be locked and has no data sharing capability, making it incredibly secure. It’s designed with security as a primary focus.

Fantastic range of features

Features include: mood monitor, sleep and lifestyle choice tracking, relaxation training (including MP3 recordings), goal setting, and positive thinking coach.

The app can be easily used in conjunction with a mental health professional to aid treatment monitoring and goals. It also contains many well-supported psychological strategies to help people feel good.

There’s also a unique function included within the app where the user stores a list of trusted contacts (such as a crisis phone counselling service or a mental health professional). The app will prompt you to contact these supports if it detects that your mood or emotional experience is depressed or anxious, and therefore assist with managing periods of risk more effectively.

In June 2016, MyPsyDiary received an award from the best mobile app (BMA) awards in the US for the best social and lifestyle app, and has been submitted for consideration as an Australian entrant in the 2016 World Summit awards, World Health Organisation. It has also recently featured in Australian newspapers and ABC radio, and involved in sponsoring suicide support in Australia.

MyPsyDiary has no in-app purchases or downloaded advertising and it’s cheap to buy, which makes it a great, accessible tool for a range of consumers.

Reviewed by Janet Peters, registered psychologist and writer.


Guide cover mockup 00324 August 2016

Guide to Effective and Safe Practice in Youth Mentoring (second edition)

NZ Youth Mentoring Network. (2016).

This guide contains the latest research into mentoring practice and provides a useful resource for anyone who is interested in mentoring young people.

The first edition was published in 2008. It pulled together important knowledge and information for the country’s emerging youth mentoring sector.

The second edition has been updated with the latest research and includes the new safety checking and child protection policy guidelines that were introduced as part of the Vulnerable Children’s Act 2014.

The aim is to, “provide a guide that seamlessly promotes safe and effective practice in youth mentoring to help ensure positive outcomes for young people”.

Comprehensive and easy to read

The guide is both comprehensive and easy to read. It was a pleasant surprise to find that it blended robust academia with simple language.

I particularly enjoyed how it contextualised contemporary society by addressing historical discourse, especially concerning Māori and Pasifika communities.

I also found the case studies were well placed and illustrated how some of the theories and ideas that were expressed throughout each chapter could look in practice. They also provided a more humanised and personal view of working with young people and their communities.

It’s clear that this work is grounded in client-focused and strengths-based perspectives and quietly emphasises that it’s the responsibility of any mentor to become aware of themselves to ensure they are not practising control or oppression of young people.

The foreword is written by Minister for Youth, Nikki Kaye. In it she says that adolescence is a time of significant change for youth, which can be compounded by a complex and rapidly changing environment.

“The benefits young people receive from good quality mentoring relationships and positive role-modelling are not only supportive in a time of uncertainty; but for some youth can have a life-changing impact.”

I highly recommend this guide to anyone who currently works, or plans to work, with young people.

Reviewed by Jono Selu, Information Resources Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation.


Even under pressure17 August 2016

Even Under Pressure: Simple Ways To Enhance Your Resilience For Adversity And Turbulent Times

By Watkins, T. (2016). Self published

Turbulent times can test even the most resilient folk who already have a great skill-set of tools for emotional wellbeing. All your knowledge can fly out the window when you’re in the middle of a crisis and feel overwhelmed.

Even Under Pressure offers ways to cope with life’s obstacles and to harness the skills you inherently have to get you through a crisis.

Resilience and mindfulness are the umbrella themes in this book, written by Kiwi leadership and self-management coach Tom Watkins. Dealing with adversity, he says, is a part of life and the more open you are to dealing with it, the better.

The ultimate aim is to be able to practice your existing, or developing, set of coping skills and have a positive attitude in the middle of a challenge.

Adversity reveals character

Everyone has an innate capacity for resilience – not just the natural optimists of the world – which can be developed with good techniques and practice, Tom explains in the book.

“Some say that adversity builds character, others, that adversity reveals character.”

The theory of mindfulness and being aware that our thoughts create our feelings, and the effects that has on our bodies, is the backbone of coping with adversity, Tom says.

Mindfulness fundamentals include; what you pay attention to grows; your experience is only based on what you pay attention to; and your attitudes are dependent on your willingness to keep them.

No quick fixes

As a professional training consultant, Tom has taught these principles in workshops to many companies and people over the last few decades.

“In all things personal or professional, I value mindfulness, self-responsibility and collaboration above improvised quick-fixes, blaming, complaining or going it alone. I recommend the scenic route,” he says on his website.

Other helpful advice he provides in Even Under Pressure includes addressing denial and avoidance of “slow-creep problems”, preventing and reducing stress, limiting conflict and cultivating resourceful thinking. Changing unhelpful perceptions and “dropping anchor” during the eye of the storm are also chapters that are valuable for coping with life’s challenges.

This is a self-published book and lacks a professional touch – the language, editing and layout is a little clunky and the topics are not that easy to navigate – but the content is science-based and promotes solid methods commonly practiced by mental wellbeing professionals.

What I found really useful were the chapter summaries – What? So What? Now What? – which provide reflections to consider the patterns of your thoughts and behaviours, and provide challenges to get on the right track.

Overall, this is a great book to have on hand and an excellent go-to in times of adversity when you need all the help you can get to stay centred. It’s a practical guide that you can easily dip into for simple tips on becoming more resilient and to remind yourself of what you’re truly capable of.

Reviewed by Paulette Crowley, freelance health writer.


Lunas red hat book cover10 August 2016

Luna’s Red Hat: An Illustrated Storybook to Help Children Cope with Loss and Suicide

By Smid, E. (2015). Jessica Kingsley Publishers

It’s really encouraging to see a picture book aimed at helping children who have experienced the loss of a family member or loved one from a suicide.

There aren’t a lot of story books out there for this particular audience. The beauty of this book is the conversations it can inspire while reading it with a child.

The book is designed to be read with children aged over six years and would be suitable for children up to the age of eight.

The story follows a young girl called Luna, who is having a picnic in the park with her dad and little brother. She’s wearing her mum’s red hat. Luna’s mum took her own life a year ago and she’s struggling to understand why.

Luna worries the suicide was somehow her fault but her dad provides some thoughtful answers for her difficult questions.

The picnic ends with the family laughing and recalling positive memories of mum. The final picture shows them sitting under a tree, dad with his arms around the children as they watch the sun go down.

As an adult reader, my heart breaks for them but the picture suggests that life goes on. The family are learning to accept their loss. As a person bereaved by suicide myself, I know there is pain behind this narrative of acceptance and that realistically, difficult times still lie ahead.

The children in the story will forever miss their mother – just as real children bereaved by the loss of a parent do. But I find the message of hope heartening. And I am glad there are picture books like this that can share this message with all ages.

Beautiful illustrations add to story

The illustrations are lovely – complete with visual details that offer opportunities to talk about the text and how Luna is feeling.

For example, at the start of the story when Luna is not happy – a red and black cloud of scribbled lines appears above her head, denoting the difficult tangle of emotions she is experiencing. Words slant unevenly down the page.

The page before this shows Luna swept up on a huge dark wave against a red sky. Words tumble down the watery slope: “Today was not the day for liking things”.

As the story peaks and Luna’s pain and questioning subsides, the pictures become gentle and joyful. The beauty of the park they are picnicking in can be seen. The grass is green and flowers are blooming. Luna remembers happy times with her mum.

Sense of hope important

It’s important to instill hope after a traumatic loss. This book can help parents and caregivers to communicate the message of hope to young (and not so young) readers.

The last two pages of the book are a guide for parents. The short information section includes how children understand death, how to tell your child about a death by suicide, and how to answer questions children may have.

The advice given is worth repeating – be honest and straightforward, adjusting your words to suit the age of the child involved. Allow children to ask questions, even if they are hard to answer.

And a last piece of advice for adults, which puts the emphasis back on self-care and respecting the grieving process:

“Make sure to look after yourself as well, and create a network of support around you. This will show your child that they do not need to look after you, and that they are allowed to focus on their own grief.”

Reviewed by Virginia Brooks, Programme Design & Delivery Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation.


 

10 steps to happier living3 August 2016

10 Keys to Happier Living: A Practical Handbook for Happiness

By King, V. (2016). Hachette

We all want to lead happy lives, and for the people we know to be happy too.

I often wonder how people I see on the news, in documentaries and on the internet can have so little but be so happy.

10 Keys to Happier Living: A Practical Handbook for Happiness explains how anyone can unlock the secret to a happier life and take action to make that their own reality.

It does this by taking the Five Ways to Wellbeing – give, connect, take notice, be active and keep learning  and growing them to 10!

The additional five give balance to the first five and, for me, add credibility to being able to live a happier life.

Choose what works for you

If you enjoy a book that you can dip into and choose the things that will work for you, mix in a few ideas that you may find challenging, and others that I’m sure you have encountered before, then this is the book for you.

The 10 keys to happiness spell out GREAT DREAM – an acronym for: give, relate, exercise, awareness, trying out, direction, resilience, emotions, acceptance (of yourself not life’s rubbish!) and meaning. This makes it easier to remember and pay attention to every item.

Each chapter is devoted to a key: it’s concept, intentions, evidence and references. It’s easy to find your way around with lots of examples from the Action for Happiness website with lists and pointers.

Pause points act as reminders

The chapters also include some pause points for readers to think about. These pause points may be for you to remember things you have already done in the past or things you have achieved or enjoyed, and how doing certain things makes you feel you are the instigator and the receiver.

The pause points might ask you to commit to doing one or two things in the following week so that you can see how they fit with you and how taking certain actions can make you feel. Not everything suits everyone and the book offers plenty of ideas to find the things that you feel comfortable with or, if you are brave enough, challenged by.

Practical handbook for happiness

One aspect I really enjoyed was the index, cross-referencing and linkages between the 10 key areas. The most important thing about this practical handbook for happiness, is that it focuses on action. Read a section in the morning with your coffee, reflect on your day and decide what you might try out.

I want to get my own copy, so that I can bend it, write on it, make notes, doodle and make it my own. It’s a starting point and an opportunity to change small things that could make a big difference in my life and in the lives of those around me.

Reviewed by Vicki Burnett, Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation.


 

baby long pexels27 July 2016

Why am I? The Science of Us

Four-part TVNZ documentary series by Mark McNeill

For the past 44 years, researchers have been following the lives of 1037 people born in Dunedin between April 1972 and March 1973.

The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, also known as The Dunedin Study, saw researchers at Otago University investigate what factors determine their personality, health, wealth and happiness.

There has been a staggering 1150 publications from this longitudinal study, many of which have assisted policy makers in New Zealand and abroad.

Documentary made about study

The Dunedin Study was relatively unknown to the wider public but that changed when documentary maker Mark McNeill received funding from New Zealand On Air to film a four-part documentary on the study.

TVNZ recently screened the documentary, aptly named Why Am I? as it looks at the age-old question of nature versus nurture. How does a mix of our genetics, personality and life events impact on our physical and mental wellbeing?

The first episode of the documentary focuses on a child's early years and how their mannerisms and behaviour may indicate what sort of adult they may become.

The second deals with the teenage years, the third looks at what happens when nature clashes with nurture, and the final episode looks at how modern life is affecting people's health and wellbeing.

Global interest in study

The study has been described as the broadest and most in-depth study of human beings in the world. The study’s director, Professor Richie Poulton has said the success is partly due to participants being flown home regularly from wherever they are in the world to undergo tests and answer questions. An amazing 96 per cent of the original participants, whose identities are kept secret, are still taking part.

What struck me was how down to earth the researchers were as they passionately guided the audience through their work.

There is great interest in the documentary series by overseas networks, and the study is now receiving additional funding from abroad, as more countries can see the gains from the research.

The producers and researchers were reportedly hopeful that the documentary would get people talking.

I’ve had several people mention the documentary series to me and talk about what they found most fascinating – so I think the researchers and participants’ years of dedication has impacted positively on many lives.

Why Am I? Available now at TVNZ on Demand 

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


what abi taught us20 July 2016

What Abi Taught Us: A mother’s struggle to come to terms with her daughter’s death

By Hone, L. (2016). Allen and Unwin

Lucy Hone’s 12-year-old daughter Abi was killed in a car accident in Canterbury in 2014. Also killed in the accident were Abi’s friend Ella and Ella’s mum Sally.

Lucy has taken every parent’s worst nightmare of losing a child and turned it into a book about how to survive an unbelievably terrible situation.

Lucy is a research academic who works in the field of resilience and wellbeing psychology, so she is more than qualified to write on the subject. But she has also lost a child in horrific circumstances, so she brings a personalised voice to the book.

She “shares her story and research to that others can work to regain some sense of control and take action in the face of helpless situations”.

Lots of practical tips and strategies

As a parent, reading a mother’s personal account of losing her daughter had me welling up several times. While this book is absolutely heart-breaking given the subject matter, it’s incredibly uplifting to know that there’s hope and that there’s a way to navigate through such a terrible tragedy.

The book would appeal to anyone who has faced a terrible loss or tragedy and wants to learn some practical strategies to make it through.

The parts where Lucy talks about the pain of losing her daughter and what life is like without her are incredibly moving. What I really like about this book is that there are lots of practical tips and strategies about what you can actually do to help get through the grieving process.

There’s a section called 10 tools to build resilience in which she lays out practical things to do to help with grief.

The book has 20 chapters ranging from Six strategies for coping in the immediate aftermath, to Managing exhaustion and depression through rest and exercise.

Resilience not an armour

The foreword is written by Karen Reivich, who was Lucy’s teacher in the Master of Applied Positive Psychology programme at the University of Pennsylvania.

Karen writes about their shared interest in understanding the nature of resilience.

“We share a deep interest in understanding the nature of resilience… at the very core, we understand that resilience is not armour that protects us from pain. Rather, resilience enables us to feel pain (and anger, anxiety, guilt) and to move through these emotions so that we can continue to feel joy, awe and love.

“The bottom line is this: we cannot change the past. All we can do is show up for the present and work toward the future we want. Lucy has written a moving book that will help us do just that,” she writes.

Reviewed by Maggie McNaughton, writer at Healthy Communications.


Applied positive psychology cover 00213 July 2016

Applied positive psychology: Integrated positive practice

By Lomas, T., Hefferon, K., & Ivtzan, I. (2014). London: Sage Publications Ltd

The authors define positive psychology as “the science and practice of improving wellbeing” to change people’s lives for the better. I love the practical aspect of the discipline, whereby the knowledge isn’t restricted to a theoretical debate in a book but has practical or applied application.

The authors of the book are lecturers at the University of East London on the MSc course in Applied Positive Psychology. The book reflects the content of their eight-week course. They are active researchers who have published numerous papers, books and book chapters on various aspects of the emerging area of positive psychology.

They start off reflecting upon Martin Seligman, who used his 1998 American Psychology Association presidential address to usher in the new innovative field of positive psychology, which has since flourished. Noting it is not a new specialty within psychology but is rather seen as a “collective identity” unifying researchers interested in the “brighter sides of human nature”.

Five ways to wellbeing

They note that “positive psychology interventions can be used by the public generally as a form of scientifically-based self-help”. This brings to mind the most prominent example of a positive psychology initiative being the Five Ways to Wellbeing developed in the UK which the Mental Health Foundation has adapted with great success in New Zealand.

This book is most definitely a textbook, aimed at students of positive psychology, though personally even though the content is at times dense and takes a few reads, I think it would suit anyone curious about learning more about wellbeing.

In a few hours the reader gains a comprehensive overview of the key concepts, influential researchers and the supporting evidence base. As far as text books go it is a very user-friendly one, it is comparatively brief, and full of interactive learning tools, such as learning objectives, case studies and quizzes that structure each chapter.

My favourite learning tool, as a break from the more academic sections, is the “Try Me” boxes where you are encouraged to pause and reflect to gain direct experience or insight into the concepts discussed.

The book gives you a really good stocktake of the proven benefits of positive psychology across multiple settings, for individuals and communities, as well as robust debate about what exactly wellbeing is.

They take into account societal, cultural and individual influences, they use a multidimensional model of wellbeing known as the Integrated Framework Example (LIFE) which is weaved into all the successive chapters as a map to guide you and to layer your learning upon.

You get a real sense that difference is respected and regular acknowledgement of the multiple influences that shape us as individuals – this isn't a one answer suits all approach thankfully.

Encouraging read

With regards to best practice, as well as presenting a solid event base for initiatives, the author's final chapter focuses on reflective and ethical practice.

To end I will quote a fact the authors remind us of – that our wellbeing is shaped 10 per cent by our circumstances, 50 per cent is determined by genetics and 40 per cent by our activities.

I think the authors have successfully managed to produce a resource that is encouraging and they definitely provide tools and understanding to help readers make their lives betters, which was the authors identified motto.

I feel more empowered and convinced that perhaps little changes in my daily activities can make the world of difference to my wellbeing in the long run.

Reviewed by Kim Higginson, Information Resources Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation


starboard6 July 2016

Which Way is Starboard Again? Overcoming Fears & Facing Challenges Sailing the South Pacific

Kirtlan, A. (2015). David Bateman Ltd

When self-confessed “uncoordinated and impractical” boating novice Anna Kirtlan decided to sail around the South Pacific, it was bound to result in an incredible adventure. Not only was she new to sailing, but she also had mental health challenges.

Kirtlan details in this well written, humorous book her experience of sailing with her partner Paddy around the South Pacific in his boat Wildflower. The book tells of Anna and Paddy’s adventures on board their boat, the amazing places they visit and wonderful people they meet.

Mental health challenges

Kirtlan learns how to sail from scratch and has to overcome anxiety attacks, something she has experienced since she was a teenager.

She writes openly and honestly about when she was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and anxiety as a youngster.

“In the early ‘90s there were no brave celebrities and sportspeople putting a face to mental illness, there were no campaigns letting people know that one in five people were going through the same thing you were. I was 15 years old and utterly convinced that if I let too many people know I would find myself in a nice comfy padded room.”

I really admire Kirtlan for her bravery in taking on such an epic challenge as sailing around the South Pacific and being so open about her personal challenges.

“Things can be hard for us in ways most people don’t understand, but if I can sail around the South Pacific, then you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Interesting facts and tid bits

While detailing her high sea adventures on a personal level, Kirtlan also inserts a lot of interesting facts about sailing, the countries she visits, cultural observations, language and other random things.

The book is broken down into three parts. The first part is called The Dream, the second Living the Dream and the third Back to Reality. Within each there are several chapters.

Kirtlan’s background in journalism and writing made this book easy to read and engaging. She is a great storyteller and knows how to write. Her sense of humour really shines through.

I enjoyed Which Way is Starboard Again? Her physical, mental and emotional journey was compelling and uplifting.

Reviewed by Maggie McNaughton, writer at Healthy Communications.


From Psyciatric Patient29 June 2016

From Psychiatric Patient to Citizen Revisited

Sayce, L. (2016). Palgrave

The battle against mental health discrimination and stigma has come a long way in recent years, but there are still questions about how to do it effectively.

This book looks at the best ways to overcome mental health discrimination and stigma. The author, Liz Sayce, acknowledges that achieving equality and full participation is not straightforward.

“I hope this book helps people debate how best to frame the questions, consider the solutions and approach the task,” Sayce says.

She is an expert in her field with over 30 years of experience. She is chief executive of Disability Rights UK and a Commissioner at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and has personal experience with mental health issues.

A right to belong

Sayce talks about the fear and prejudice that exists against people with mental health challenges. Rates of employment and social participation remain very low. However, she remains optimistic.

“The vision is one of a shared, deep commitment to everyone’s right to participate; where people living with mental health challenges are completely confident in their right to belong; and where our common humanity is assumed by all.”

This book is part of the Foundations of Mental Health Practice series. Each chapter is clearly set out and comes with its own conclusion, a reflective exercise and list of further reading.

The reflective exercises are designed to get the reader thinking about the issue at hand. An example of one of these exercises is: “For someone experiencing mental health challenges, what may be the pros and cons of considering yourself disabled?”

Two ways to help remove discrimination

The book shows how people working in mental health can help challenge discrimination and looks at the role of friends and family and people with a legal, policy or campaigning interest.

It suggests two ways to remove discrimination. The first is by ending discriminatory mental health law. The second is by ensuring participatory rights for those affected by mental health issues, especially when it comes to things like employment, education and independent living.

Focusing mainly on the UK, the book also draws on the experiences of other countries including New Zealand and Australia.

From Psychiatric Patient to Citizen Revisited would suit academics, researchers and students. It’s very technical and dry and references a lot of research and studies, but it gives an incredible overview of mental health challenges.

Reviewed by Maggie McNaughton, writer at Healthy Communications.


The HappinessTrack June 2222 June 2016

The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success

Seppala, E. (2016). Harper Collins.

We all want to be happy and successful, but in this modern age is it coming at too high a price? Author Emma Seppala argues that it is and that happiness is actually the key to success, not the other way round as we are taught from a young age.

Seppala is a leading expert on health psychology, wellbeing and resilience. She believes most of us want to be successful and happy, yet achieving those two things has never been more difficult.

Technology overwhelming us

She argues that because of the growth of technology, the pace of our lives is reaching overwhelming levels. We are constantly checking our phones, replying to emails and text messages – all while doing other things like planning the shopping list. We are all under deadline pressure and it’s taking its toll because we can’t unplug and escape.

She writes about highly successful people she knows who have achieved incredible things. However, she’s been saddened to see these ostensibly successful people burnt out, disconnected and unhealthy.

She says the way people are taught to seek success (what is culturally supported and encouraged) is completely wrong.

“We are compromising our ability to be truly successful and happy because we are falling for common but outdated theories about success.

“From a young age we are taught that getting ahead means doing anything that’s thrown at us with razor-sharp focus and iron discipline – and at the expense of our happiness,” Seppala says.

She details six false theories about success. These include; never stop accomplishing, you can’t have success without stress, persevere at all costs, focus on your niche, play to your strengths and look out for number one.
While some people may have achieved success this way, it’s happened at great cost, she says.

How do we get happy and therefore successful?

So how do we become happy and therefore successful? Drawing on research, she shows how six strategies for attaining happiness and fulfilment are actually the key to thriving professionally.

These six strategies (which correspond to each chapter) will apparently help you be happier, which in turn will enhance your success. All you need to do is: live in the moment, tap into your resilience, manage your energy, do nothing, be good to yourself and show compassion to others. I think this is easier said than done though.

I liked the chapter about the benefits of living in the present moment and how doing “nothing” is good for your creativity.

This book has an interesting premise – happiness is the key to success not the other way round. However, I found it a bit bland in places and hard to relate to. It’s one thing to suggest how to be happy but it’s something else to actually be able to do those things.

Reviewed by Maggie McNaughton, writer at Healthy Communications.


Am i depressed and what can i do about it book cover15 June 2016

Am I Depressed And What Can I Do About It?: A CBT self-help guide for teenagers experiencing low mood and depression

Reynolds, S., & Parkinson, M (2015). Robinson.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has been widely recognised as one of the most effective tools for supporting young people who have experienced depression. However, for a variety of reasons many young people aren’t able to access this support when they need it.

Am I Depressed And What Can I Do About It? along with its companion Teenage Depression, A CBT Guide for Parents provides young people and their whanau /families with advice and practical strategies to help them manage and even treat their own symptoms using CBT.

Practical tools that fit in with young people’s lives

This book focuses on practical examples that can easily be applied to day-to-day life. It’s full of cartoons and worksheets that can be filled out by young people, and even used to track their progress. Recognising that many young people experiencing depression may struggle to commit to reading a whole book, the authors acknowledge and even encourage readers to dip in and out, reading or even skimming chapters as need, so they get the information and skills they need at the time.

Another feature that really impressed me was the ‘Case Studies’. Three young people, aged 14, 16 and 18, with different backgrounds and experiences of depression, were are used as examples of how CBT may (or may not) help young people manage their lives. These case studies had a real authenticity, and are obviously based on real young people with complex lives and experiences. These prove that CBT is not a ‘one-size fits all’ treatment. It needs to be adapted to your own needs and experiences, and when done so it can provide real benefits.

But is it relatable?

While I am no longer a teenager (a fact that I am grateful for) my teenage years are not so long ago that I have forgotten, so reading this I tried to remember my feelings as a teenager. And the teenager inside me found much of the information too technical. I think the authors could have benefitted from thinking about the difference between seeing a therapist and reading a book.

It’s not really realistic (or, I might argue, beneficial) to ask a teenager to administer and score psychological tests to determine whether they meet the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression. Instead I’d rather have seen an overview of the issues they might want to change, so readers can decide for themselves whether CBT would be helpful in their lives.

Also, throughout the book the authors take the role of a well-meaning adult giving advice to a teenager. While some young people may find this reassuring I think the teenage me would have felt talked down to, particularly discussions of topics like social media which did seem out of touch with young people’s lives.

Does this mean I wouldn’t recommend this to any young people? Not necessarily – I think it depends on the young person and their context. Rather than giving this to a young person to read on their own I think this book should be read in partnership with a supportive adult.

That way the young person will be encouraged through this process and the adult may be able to help translate some of the technical information to help it relate it to their lives. It may be a useful partner for SPARX and Aunty Dee, two other tools that use CBT to teach young people skills to manage depression.

Reviewed by Briar Milligan, Youth Health Information Specialist at Counties Manukau Health.


8 June 2016

The marshmallow Test twoThe Marshmallow Test: Understanding Self-control and How to Master It

Mischel, W. (2014). Transworld Publishers

If you were given the choice of eating one marshmallow right now or waiting and eating two later, what would you do?

Influential psychologist Walter Mischel delves into the topic of self-control. What is it, why is it important and how can we master it?

Mischel is famous for conducting an experiment in the 1960s at Stanford University’s day care in which pre-schoolers were given a choice: eat one marshmallow now, or wait and enjoy two later. He looked at what happened to the children in later life and found there was a difference between the children who could delay their gratification and those who ate the marshmallow straight away.

This now iconic experiment, and many studies that followed, found that the ability to delay gratification early in life greatly improved the chance of having a successful and fulfilling life later on. The children who could wait and enjoy two marshmallows later, had better social and cognitive functioning, achieved higher university admission scores, had healthier lifestyles and a greater sense of self-worth over the course of their life.

So basically – if you display signs of self-control as a child, chances are you’re going to be better off mentally and physically over the course of your life.

Fascinating read in three parts

This fascinating book is broken down into three parts. The first part looks at why the children’s ability to delay gratification predicts so much about their future wellbeing and success. The second part looks at how self-control can be harnessed to improve your life and how willpower can be something that becomes automatic and doesn’t require a huge effort. Part three looks at the benefits of self-control and the implications it has for self-care, child-rearing, education and public policy.

But the thing to remember about self-control as Mischel points out is that, “A life with too much of it can be as unfulfilling as one with too little.”

Learning self-control

But is self-control something you are born with – something you either have or you don’t have?

The good news is that apparently self-control is malleable and something you can work on and improve. While some children and adults seem to naturally have more or less self-control, it’s actually something you can learn. This is great news for all the marshmallow scoffers out there like me.

Mischel argues that self-control techniques can be taught, which is music to the ears of the millions of people around the world who grapple with quitting smoking, losing weight or whatever other aspect of their life that requires self-control. Self-control can also help you with things like planning for retirement, overcoming heartbreak and making major life decisions.

I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting, relatable, and Mischel’s writing style is easy to read and fun. Best enjoyed while drinking a hot chocolate – with several marshmallows on the side.

Reviewed by Maggie McNaughton, writer at Healthy Communications. 


Stepping out of the Shadows1 June 2016

Stepping out of the Shadows: Insights into self-stigma and madness

Edited by Dr Debbie Peterson and Sarah Gordon. (2009) Case Consulting

This easy-to-read book is a collection of essays, articles and personal stories about self-stigma associated with mental illness.

Each chapter explores the idea of self-stigma from the perspective of a person who has experienced mental illness, researched self-stigma, or both. This makes the book really compelling and super easy to read.

The introduction gives an overview of what self-stigma is and how self-stigma is part of a cycle that can be broken. The first chapter provides a more detailed description of self-stigma, which is broken down into easy-to-read subheadings.

A short biography of all the authors is included, which provides a nice insight into each contributor. There is a great mix of stories from people from all walks of life.

This book is so accessible because it’s not drowning in technical terms or jargon. It’s not an academic text book, even though some parts of it come from an academic perspective, which makes it easy to understand.

Moving personal accounts

I found some of the personal accounts of what it felt like to experience mental illness quite moving. They provided an incredible insight into something that is often such a private, personal experience.

I developed a real admiration for the people who opened up about what they’d been through and the obstacles and discrimination they overcame.

The way in which some of the authors were treated after being admitted to hospital when they were experiencing mental unwellness, was very shocking.

Editor Dr Debbie Peterson outlines key things to be taken away from reading the book. She hopes readers gain an understanding of the experience of self-stigma, the role self-stigma can play in the lives of people with experience of mental illness, how the effects of self-stigma differ from person to person, how interventions can work, and that for many people, ‘madness’ is a valuable part of their life experience.

I think this book achieves those things and more and I would highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Maggie McNaughton, writer at Healthy Communications


 

8 keys to mental health through exercises COVER25 May 2016

Eight keys to mental health through exercise

Hibbert, C.G. (2016) W.W. Norton & Company

Well-crafted and easy to read, Eight keys to mental health through exercise is for everyone from the exercise-averse couch dweller, to the toned, tight and tirelessly devoted fitness fanatic.

Written by Christina G. Hibbert, a clinical psychologist, mum, author of other self-help books and exercise enthusiast, Eight keys pre-prepares, prepares and then eases you ever so gently into the idea of regular exercise.

Hibbert begins by clearly explaining the evidence surrounding exercise and wellbeing, even breaking down the benefits for each particular mental health condition. The bottom line, exercise is amazing for the mind and body. Why then, is it so hard to do?

Well, there’s a series of events that needs to occur before you can actually put your running shoes on and keep putting them on, day after day. Hibbert discusses the principles of cognitive behaviour therapy, habit making and breaking, the mechanics of motivation and self-esteem, and, where needed, the importance of seeking professional advice before you get started.

Each section ends with a series of small worksheets to let you focus and retain what you’ve just read and apply it in a practical way to your own situation.

Real, practical advice

One of the key strengths of Hibbert’s methodology is exploring the complex nature of health conditions and the associated barriers to exercise. For example, if you live with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or have experience with panic attacks or anxiety, exercise can actually freak you out, big time.

When you think about the sensations of intense exercise, such as shortness of breath, sweating and heart pumping, it’s easy to see how similar it is to panic. Hibbert offers less strenuous alternatives, like yoga, where you can still reap the benefits of exercise without panic.

She also sensibly deals with the myriad of physical roadblocks that come with other chronic illnesses, age and disability. Hibbert does her utmost to inspire you that any kind of movement is great, even if it starts with walking to your letterbox and back, or boogying to your favourite tunes while doing the housework.

Terminology trouble

Overall, I found the book fascinating and enjoyable, but the lexicon sometimes bogged me down. Using terminology such as “suffering” with depression, or anxiety, really rubs me the wrong way and Hibbert overuses it.

What’s more, such words go against the grain when mental health messaging focuses so strongly on combatting stigma by trying to teach the world that living with mental illness is not a sign of weakness. Describing someone as a sufferer of any mental illness is hardly empowering.

But don’t let that put you off, there’s plenty to gain from reading Eight keys. Even if, like me, you are already an exercise convert, you will not only feel empowered by reading this book, but also motivated to dig deeper when it comes to fully realising exercise’s potential.

Reviewed by Lucy Ratcliffe, Communications Consultant at Healthy Communications.


 

Stuff that sucks cover image 00218 May 2016

Stuff That Sucks: Accepting what you can't change and committing to what you can

Sedley, B. (2015) Robinson

This book is informative, practical and definitely aimed at young people in their teen years. It is based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and offers some insightful perspectives on the stuff that sucks in life.

I particularly enjoyed the way the author addresses how different things can impact on a person. For example, Sedley acknowledges that although some feelings are internal and caused by your own perception of yourself, there is also the external and the systematic stuff that can impact the way that you think, feel and talk about your emotions.

Useful read

I think this is really important in realising that there are things that are out of your control but that there are also ways that the individual can counteract the way that this stuff affects you.

As an adult who works with young people, I found some of the language difficult to digest, although it sounded very much like the language that some of the young people I work with use.

Add to that the explicit references to social media and contemporary culture, I think this is a really useful read and would thoroughly recommend it to any young person who is struggling with hard stuff.

Reviewed by Jono Selu, Information Resource Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation


Health wellbeing and environment in Aotearoa New Zealand 3rd ed COVER11 May 2016

Health, Wellbeing & Environment in Aotearoa New Zealand

Shaw, S., White, L., & Deed, B. (2013) Oxford University Press

The book gives students an introduction to the concepts of health and wellbeing within the New Zealand environment and is written to encourage analysis and critical thinking.

I asked myself would this text be beneficial to students in the psychiatric and mental health field of practice? Yes, indeed it would. There is a clear need to anticipate solutions to big health and wellbeing challenges in New Zealand. The forward by Max Abbot is readable and sensible, describing the complexity of care and challenges over time.

Compassion important

The text is well set out with 18 contributing authors for the 18 chapters. The chapters give good consideration to a number of issues with accompanying summaries, excellent chapter overviews, and an adequate index.

The book examines case studies and it heartens me that it takes a considered approach to all relationships. Compassion is important in mental health work and I feel an approach of thoughtfulness and empathy is evident in this text.

Topics that jumped out included a part about online etiquette, which is useful in today’s evolving world. I would recommend this book. It would be helpful as it is always reassuring to a student to have case studies to refer to, complete with the outcomes, both negative and positive, to guide one’s practice. 

Reviewed by Michael Oakley-Browne, retired psychiatric nurse


Always looking up the adventures of an incurable optimist

4 May 2016 

Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist 

Fox, M. J. (2008) Hyperion

 As a child of the 1980s, I grew up with Marty McFly among other Michael J. Fox movie and TV characters. These days Fox is world renowned for his experience with, and advocacy of, Parkinson’s disease. Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist is Fox’s second autobiographical book. He’s very open about his continued struggles with Parkinson's, but at the same time he’s optimistic about his life. 

Fox describes his life after the TV series Spin City. He ends his career with Spin City feeling he can’t carry on because of the progression of his Parkinson's. He goes on to channel his energy into the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which ploughs money straight into Parkinson's research. He wants the foundation to be made redundant within a decade because his ultimate aim is to find a cure. 

Optimistic attitude 

I found his accounts of living with Parkinson's to be relatable to any long-term health condition. He describes having to tweak drug levels up or down to get the right balance of symptom control and tolerable side effects. He most certainly has an optimistic attitude towards it. He has periods of time when he can forget about his disease. He describes not knowing how bad his symptoms are until he sees video footage of himself moving around. 

Fox involves himself in politics for the sake of advancing the search for a cure. He recounts using his celebrity to influence the decision-makers by making advertising to endorse candidates who are pro-stem cell research. He also talks about some of the other celebrities he relates to, and meets. In particular, cyclist Lance Armstrong who went through cancer, and former boxing great Mohammed Ali, who also has Parkinson’s. 

Fox has an amazingly supportive wife and four children. While the disease is a big part of his life, you get the impression that it’s secondary to his family, his faith and his optimism. His story is relatable, funny and offers hope for the future. 

Reviewed by Gina Giordani, Programmes Administrator at the Mental Health Foundation.


Happy City cover US websize27 April 2016

Happy City – transforming our lives through urban design

Montgomery, C. (2014) Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Can cities be engines of happiness and not just for the convenience of commerce?

What if designers and policy-makers focused their outcomes on achieving the wellbeing of the people who live, work and play in their cities?

These are the big questions that Charles Montgomery wrestles with in Happy City. He wades into the plethora of evidence on the social and structural determinants of health as well as the health outcomes of happiness to comprehensively construct the case for a new approach to urban design and planning.

Flawed urban design

Montgomery systematically critiques a century of flawed urban design theory through the use of evidence. Cities have been planned and designed since the first half of the 20th century for the convenience of cars not people. Montgomery piles up the evidence of how this has led to not only the ill-health of populations and the environment, but also the economic wellbeing of cities.

Happy City provides a blueprint for building, shaping and even retro-fitting cities based on human wellbeing that stems from equitable and just distribution of, and access to, resources, amenities and public space. It emphasises the goal of increasing social connectedness and participation – key ingredients of ‘happiness’ or mental wellbeing.

Christchurch earthquakes

In 2015, he was invited to visit Christchurch to share his knowledge towards the rebuild of the city following the disastrous earthquakes of 2010—11. Ahead of his public address hosted by civic leaders, the All Right? campaign hosted a community-led forum where Montgomery was a guest and invited to listen to six key community leaders and their views on what makes a city happy.

Happy City offers a recipe, aligned with evidence and seasoned with a dash of hope, for combining the ingredients of happiness to create a wellbeing-focused, socially just, prosperous and environmentally harmonious city of the people.

Reviewed by Ciaran Fox, Programme Design and Delivery Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation.


Better than before cover20 April 2016

Better than before: Mastering the habits of our everyday lives

Rubin, G. (2015) Crown

It seems so obvious doesn’t it – when you change your habits, you change your life. Author Gretchen Rubin notes most humans repeat about 40 per cent of behaviour almost daily, so your habits shape your existence, and your future. Rubin is a well-known author with two previous books The Happiness Project and Happier at Home both making it to the best seller list.

Though obvious, what struck me was that habits I establish may free me from daily decision making and having to use self-control. Rubin suggests life becomes simpler, and your daily inner struggle over choices is lessened. And that these routines allows you to get some traction with your personal goals resulting in you becoming more productive and creative.

She cites research that people with better self-control are happier and healthier. They’re more altruistic; they have stronger relationships and more career success; they manage stress and conflict better; they live longer; they steer clear of bad habits.

Different approaches to habit making

The chapters are full of different styles and ways of approaching habit making, reinforcing the idea that the habits you nurture need to be personally selected to ensure they reflect your values and mesh with your personality. Don’t let the chapter headings put you off! Titles such as monitoring, scheduling, accountability, and abstaining can send shivers down anyone’s spine.

Rubin shows you many sides to these instructions, noting there is no one way and it is best to test drive ideas to see how they may fit in your life. Her moto is: first, you must know yourself. Only then you can shape habits to suit yourself.

Some may accuse Rubin of overthinking things as her book on what seems like a simple subject is quite lengthy and detailed. But her chatty writing style, and introductions to her family and friends, draws you in and she tests out her theories with those closet to her. She manages to normalise the battle we all have on a daily basis where you declare of list of good intentions in the morning but somehow the busyness of life detours you.

Rubin goes as far as saying that the habit of the habit is more important than the habit itself. I can see how making a commitment to your wellbeing can fortify you, and honouring daily health promoting habits would give you the energy and resolve to repeat such actions.

You are presented with four distinct groups that describe common ways of relating to habit making, I neatly fit into the “obliger” category. This means I am great at meeting deadlines and helping others, but fail miserably at honouring commitments to myself.

While the subject of developing healthy habits seems basic, it’s common to fail miserably at sustaining them in the long term. If this sounds like you, Rubin’s book might be well worth a read.

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


10pm question13 April 2016

The 10pm Question

 De Goldi, K. (2010). Candlewick Press

In Kate de Goldi’s beautiful novel The 10pm Question, we meet 12-year-old Frankie Parsons, a young boy with an old soul.

Frankie is a worrier. He worries about his health, his mother, and the rest of his family. He worries about diseases, about smoke alarm batteries, the fat content in his food, and whether his cat has worms. He marvels at those around him who seem to sail through life untroubled by the sea of disasters Frankie spies from every direction.

The smartest thing about his best friend, Gigs, Frankie believes, is “that he never, ever, ever worried”. He pours out his fears and anxieties every night at 10pm to his mother, whose patience at his litany of worries knows few bounds.

Frankie’s worries are not unfounded, and when a new friendship forces him to see his life reflected in her eyes, he starts to ask some deeper questions. When the weight of his woes inevitably causes him to stumble, I was heartbroken for him. I truly cared about what would happen to Frankie, to his friends, and his family, and that alone made this book almost perfect to me.

A beautiful reminder of childhood

This book reminded me of something that I often forget: childhood is not just an idyll, enchanted period of magic and imagination and bedtime stories. Childhood is scary. With little experience to form your expectations, the future is limitless – and this is both wonderful and terrible.

A career as an astronaut seems as likely as one as a butcher, but who will talk to you at school in the morning? What if that rash kills you? What if you do grow up to be a soldier and you have to actually go to war? Everything is, as De Goldi puts it, “terrifyingly possible.”

However, the golden parts of childhood aren’t brushed past. As I read, I was reminded me of the pure thrill of inventing languages, the disappointment when teachers made me switch partners for school projects, the smell of damp ferns when I ran beneath them on summer mornings, the exhilaration that came when I completed a successful cartwheel.

I remembered the butterflies in my stomach when I made a new friend, the gradual realisation that my parents didn’t know everything, the wonder of learning or discovering things on my own that helped me to make sense of the world.

This book is peopled by characters that immediately seem real and alive, and many of whom I would want to meet (some from a safe distance). Frankie himself is a revelation – he’s curious, neurotic, affectionate, and (there’s no other word for him) a darling. His friends are delightful, and if his Aunts suddenly sprang to life and invaded my living room in a cloud of food and whisky fumes I would struggle to contain my glee.

Funny, poignant, and original

The 10pm Question is a funny, poignant, and original book that tackles the subject of anxiety in both children and adults in a compassionate way. It’s definitely a book that grown-ups can relate to and will stay with you long after you reluctantly finish the final page. Intelligent and insightful, The 10pm Question can be found in the children’s section at your local library.

Reviewed by Sophia Graham, Communications Officer, Mental Health Foundation


Fifty DVD cover ed6 April 2016

Fifty: The Movie

Law, M. & Ritson, J.J. (2016) Flashworks Media

Fifty: The Movie follows mental health advocate, athlete and fundraiser extraordinaire Malcolm Law and his friends as they run 50 marathons up 50 peaks in 50 consecutive days. Along the way they start mental health conversations and raise more than $500,000 for the Mental Health Foundation.

The movie is a great example of how inspirational a person can be if they challenge personal and societal boundaries around what can be achieved.

On paper, the task of running 50 marathons in 50 days seems insurmountable, but then add in traversing 50 peaks and you might be forgiven for thinking you’re hearing a piece of fantasy.

Yet you are brought down to earth with Mal’s heartfelt disclosure of what inspired him to run these mountains. His personal experience of family loss, trauma and its imprint on his life, is heartbreaking and, sadly, is something that it is becoming more common in today's society.

Generosity and banding together

What this movie highlights is the boundless generosity of the community, and that when we unite, our voices can be heard to reduce stigma and raise awareness of mental health.

Halfway through watching the movie I had an epiphany about what Mal was demonstrating. If you live with depression, your mountain peak is day-to-day living. Just getting out of bed to face the day, with the thoughts and feelings you experience, is like climbing Everest. This is played out by Mal in Fifty, as he experiencies both mental and physical challenges that takes him to brink during the High Five-0.

As a running fan myself, who no longer runs marathons due to old knees, this movie and Mal’s journey has inspired me to find an alternative to marathon running. The benefits of keeping moving and connected with nature are numerous no matter what the distance.

Reviewed by Paul Hellesoe, a psychiatric nurse in Auckland.


The upside of stress cover30 March 2016

The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you, and how to get good at it

McGonigal, K. 2015 Published by Avery, 5 May 2016, Second Edition.

I was first alerted to this book as it was listed in the Berkeley University Greater Good Centre list of recommended books for 2015.

Health psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s 2013 TEDtalk on this topic has had millions of views; the public who have brought her book often rave about it, though not everyone in the positive psychology field endorses her book.

I found reviews that challenged her reframing of existing theories and arranging data to suit her purpose. Personally I found it had quite an impact on me; it was a refreshing read, with a good mix of research, case studies and self-reflection exercises. I can’t say in my case that I have learnt to embrace stress as she writes, but yes to see it with fresh eyes with the realisation I am not as powerless as I often assume in the face of everyday stress.

She introduces the reader to the concept of ‘mindsets’ that are beliefs that shape your reality, they are powerful because they affect not just how you think but also how you act. For example, when we view stress as harmful it becomes something to be avoided. By contrast, people who believe stress can be helpful are more likely to cope with stress in a proactive manner, and see it as an opportunity to grow. Which leads to the outcome where you build your resources for dealing with future stress, become more confident and create a strong network of social support.

The belief that stress is helpful becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This can also result in a change to our physiology where instead of a threat response sensitising the brain to future threats, it makes the brain release resilience-boosting hormones. Interesting also is you are more likely to see your challenges as temporary.

McGonigal notes that embracing stress is a radical act of self-trust, you don't have to wait until you have no fear, stress or anxiety to do what matters. If one continues to put dreams aside until life is less stressful or busy, those dreams may never be perused.

Days after reading this book I would catch phrases I was using to describe stress, and in that moment I released I had a choice to reframe what I was thinking. Though I wouldn’t always do that, I feel more aware of my "automatic inner dialogue".

The author also notes that we can extend this way of thinking to our wider world, to also be aware of how we talk about stress to people we care about. She says that we can also use the mindset approach to help them identify their own strengths and values that assist them through their struggles.

I can see how some people might view her approach as Pollyanna-ish, not taking into account things like poverty, but I feel her approach has merit, especially as it emphasises staying connected and actively looking for support. I found her book to be a beacon, whereby each individual can take clear messages from the research and personalise them.

Reviewed by Kim Higginson, Information Resources Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation


The CBT Art Activity Book 100 illustrated handouts for creative therapeu...23 March 2016

The CBT Art Activity Book: 100 illustrated handouts for creative therapeutic work

Guest, J. (2016). Jessica Kinglsey Publishers.

Mindfulness colouring books are all the rage at the moment, so when I saw this book I was curious to see if it was different from others on the market. There are similarities, but the difference with The CBT Art Activity Book is that there are tailored worksheets to use in therapeutic situations with support by a qualified professional. Author Jennifer Guest notes this respectful and compassionate support from a professional is important as emotional disclosure can be challenging and leave you feeling vulnerable. Time needs to be committed to the therapy process, especially if you have been through a traumatic experience.

Guest has a background in fine arts and designed the worksheets herself, incorporating cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and art therapy principles, initially using them in her therapeutic work as a counsellor.

Are these therapies effective?

CBT has a solid research base, and art therapy is an emerging modality with limited high quality studies. That said, a 2015 review notes that art therapy has significant positive effects, such as a sense of personal achievement, expression of feelings, increased knowledge of self, future goals, and aiding relaxation. The results also highlight the need for a skilled therapist, and that art therapy may not be everyone’s cup of tea due to the creative aspect.

Each worksheet has a visual design that can be coloured and a series of questions to prompt self-reflection, a skill which is key to the CBT process. Self-reflection is when you become more aware of how your thoughts and feelings affect your behaviour. Guest hopes readers will be inspired by the images and they will help people communicate visually.

A tool for a therapeutic environment

The worksheets initially seem quite basic, but are intended as an additional tool within an existing therapy environment. Guest notes the worksheets provide an opportunity for people to aid and accelerate their personal learning by doing. They also give you another way to approach an issue you are working on.

While this workbook provides another tool for a practitioner to use with clients, how much it would get used totally depends on the client – not everyone is catching on to the colouring craze!

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


Parenting OCD cover 116 March 2016

Parenting OCD: Down to earth advice from one parent to another

Sanders, C. (2014) Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Author and mother Claire Sanders talks about life with her son, who has severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This book’s real strength is the author’s honesty in her reflections of her first-hand experience and practical advice.

She covers what is involved in getting a diagnosis, what to expect in therapy, how to cope with panic attacks, how it might affect the rest of the family and how you might feel as a parent.

You get a sense of OCD as an insatiable beast; the more you accommodate the condition, the more it demands, impacting not just the individual but the whole family dynamic. Sanders describes the moment when she realised her son’s OCD was stronger than his bond with her and that she would have to fight like a tiger to maintain their relationship. You can sense her love for her son and her wish for him to flourish, despite his disorder.

As with any recovery journey, the individual needs to overcome problems at their own pace. Sanders’ son developed symptoms at eight years old and by age 13 made some leaps forward. Sanders speaks with raw honesty at the end of the book where she concludes that until her son makes a personal commitment to his treatment, OCD will continue to have a strong hold.

A balancing act for parents

As a mother, what I find the most challenging is the fine balance between comforting and enabling; we all have our little rituals that help us cope with life. Sanders notes that with OCD it is important to support the person, not the rituals. Your child may find their environment challenging but it’s important to cope through the anxiety. Through this experience they will understand their own inner strength, rather than resorting to rituals.

Reading about Sanders’ experiences with her son’s schools highlights how important it is in the schooling environment that the curriculum and staff promote inclusiveness and wellbeing:

“OK so, in your child’s head lives a bully. It puts horrible thoughts in their heads, horrible images, and makes them do things they don’t really want to do because they are scared of the threats their bully makes. That’s how OCD operates. Then, to make matters worse, not only do they carry that bully around all the time, very often there are other bullies in the ‘real world’ that think it is hilarious that your child taps or counts or is scared of something.”

Sanders also highlights the potency of humour; both as a coping tool and a way to reclaim power among the absurdity of some OCD symptoms. This book would have been an invaluable read for my extended family in the early days of living with OCD. I would recommend this book to any family for whom OCD has an impact.

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


Wayfinding leadership book cover9 March 2016

Wayfinding Leadership: Groundbreaking wisdom for developing leaders

Spiller, C., Barclay-Kerr, H., & Panoho, J. (2015) Huia Publishing

I believe that everything happens for a reason, and upon returning to work after the holiday season, I was asked to review Wayfinding Leadership: Groundbreaking wisdom for developing leaders. I found it relevant and timely as my career took a new direction to support the Mental Health Foundation to provide leadership in its responsiveness to Maori.

Wayfinding Leadership is named for the great wayfinding tradition of the Polynesian navigators who explored the Pacific Ocean, which included my tupuna (ancestors) from the Kurahaupo and Mamaru waka, and navigated their way from Hawaikii to Aotearoa.

This book challenged my 25 years of middle-management experiences and skills. Wayfinding Leadership provided me with a framework and reasoning as to why I, as a Maori woman, thought and acted differently compared to my non-Maori colleagues in similar roles. Each chapter provides practical exercises based on its content and challenges your thinking and current practices to consider the traditional wayfinding philosophy, values and principles; thus enhancing your leadership skills and attributes within a contemporary context.

Be still with moving parts

As I considered my role within the Mental Health Foundation, this book taught me to keep the destination (vision) in my mind and to not aim for it in a straight line, but instead to read the signs and adjust myself to be still, while still calibrated to a moving world. As a leader, your role is to inspire others and to weave the group together into a unified whole. Leading in a mana-enhancing way cultivates personal sovereignty of each person. Finally, if we want to be transformational and create true wellbeing, as well as to respond to a fast-changing environment, we need a dynamic strategic approach. Eventually the destination comes to you.

I will now continue my journey as a leader, equipped with wayfinding knowledge, helping me traverse through unchartered waters.

This book has given me the theory, wisdom and foundation of some of my practices, which are innate as a Maori leader. I challenge my colleagues to take up the wayfinding experience. It has been a personal journey of enlightenment, providing me with a deepened understanding that resonates with my values and beliefs, which I will continue to reference for the rest of my career. I must give credit to the authors for developing such a valuable resource and the taonga (gifts) they have given are not only for me but for my family and generations to come.

Nga mihi mahana nga rangatira ma. Tena koutou Tena koutou Tena koutou katoa.

Reviewed by Ellen Norman, Director Maori Development at the Mental Health Foundation.


superbetter2 March 2016

Super Better: A revolutionary approach to getting stronger, happier, braver and more resilient

McGonigal, J. (2015) Penguin Press.

This book is a creative way to use some of the concepts of gaming to build resilience and a happier, stronger you. Super Better uses many scientific studies to explain why taking a more "gameful" approach to life can make a real change and how the game and app, of the same name, can help make that happen. The book is filled with quests that ensure you are experimenting with being gameful right from the start. But along the way you discover things about challenging yourself, power ups, battling the bad guys, allies, secret identities and epic wins.

Part one looks at why games make you super better. Actually, the book could have lost me in part one because while I can see why the Super Better game makes you feel super better, I will never be convinced that sitting in front of a computer playing games is a good idea. However, the great quests along the way kept me motivated to find out more and I appreciated the different perspective on gaming, particularly for anyone worried about the impact of gaming on someone in their life.

A quick way to shift your mindset

The quests throughout the book alone are a great resource of tools to quickly and positively shift your mindset and they all come with a clear explanation of why they work. Moving onto part two, How to be gameful convinced me that playing Super Better was a creative and fun way of approaching problems like depression or anxiety in a really active way. With small wins and small activities you can shift yourself and become empowered.

That said, the book was super long and had too much detail for me. But I have recommended it to a number of people already, including a friend who has a 13-year-old struggling with type 2 diabetes and weight problems. What a great way for her to approach her challenge, not full of things she should and shouldn’t be doing but by playing a game to change her mindset and move forward everyday in some way. I am convinced taking a more gameful approach is a great way to shift and overcome a challenge. Start playing today!

Reviewed by Ngaire Newland, behaviour change champion at Be More Now.


 24 February 2016

Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen

Hawking, J. (2013) Alma Books.

Even if you’ve not seen the Academy Award-nominated movie The Theory of Everything, starring best actor Eddie Redmayne, you’ll have heard of the film’s protagonist, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, infamous for his Black Hole theory.

The film emulates the memoir of Hawking’s wife Jane, Travelling to Infinity: My life with Stephen. Jane’s autobiography chronicles the exceptional life she lived with Stephen and their three children in Cambridge, UK, spanning a quarter century, from their young marriage in the 1960s to their divorce in the late 1980s.

Jane dedicated her life to supporting Stephen in his battle with motor neuron disease – a debilitating illness that crippled his body and stole his power of speech – in his pursuit of physics and in raising their family.

What makes this story so poignant is the mental fortitude both Jane and Stephen show against heavy odds; an apathetic National Health Service, the patriarchal bureaucracy of Cambridge University where Stephen spent most of his career and crippling health issues all served to weaken their resolves.

The fact that Stephen is still alive, let alone that he is an internationally-lauded genius, is testament to one man’s triumph over physical disability and resilience through periods of intense despondency. Stephen’s existence is a paradoxical dichotomy of intellectual genius and physical incapacity; his success thanks largely to Jane’s commitment to their wellbeing.

Jane details their turbulent marriage and how she managed her suicidal thoughts. She describes her guilty state of mind over finding comfort in another man’s love and feelings of sheer desperation while caring for a disabled person in unique circumstances. She found solace in her spirituality, escaping into nature, and confiding in her support network.

Travelling to Infinity provides insight into one woman’s battle to secure happiness and wellbeing for herself and her family under harrowing conditions and is well worth a read.

Reviewed by Hayley Tillard, Communications Assistant, Auckland.


 17 February 2016

Teenage Depression, A CBT Guide for Parents: Help your child beat their low mood

Parkinson, N., & Reynolds, S. (2015). Robinson.

Professor Shirley Reynolds and Dr Monika Parkinson have many years’ hands-on experience with young people (who are acknowledged in the introduction), and involvement in research trials aimed at investigating enhanced outcomes for child mental health problems.

The advice in the book is founded on real life examples as you follow three families applying the skills. Teenage Depression is aimed at parents, but there is also a companion book for young people, Am I depressed and what can I do about it? A CBT self-help guide for teenagers experiencing low mood and depression. Both books follow the same structure and make use of the same case studies, but Teenage Depression incorporates additional strategies for parents.

Focus on the problems of the now

Authors make it clear that depression is a complex illness, rarely caused by one thing or event. Reynolds and Parkinson say it is more useful to instead to work out what might be causing the problems going right now. This means individuals and families have the power to do something about the problems and to make positive change.

Though the book is about Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), the first five chapters cover a raft of other useful topics. For example, information on depression with checklists of symptoms, steps parents can take now, how to formulate a safety plan, examples of possible wording for bringing up the topic with their teen, and preparing together to talk to the GP.

Back to basics

The authors encourage parents to help teens prioritise the basics (sleeping, eating, and exercise) to build a solid foundation for wellbeing. Also “doing more to feel better”, which may feel difficult at first, but becoming more involved in life’s small details can have a significant positive impact on mood, especially when you start adding up all the small activities and achievements. All goal setting is done together with the lead from the young person, ensuring any goals are linked to values they hold dear.

The second half of Teenage Depression outlines the basics of CBT and the authors insist it is a tool not just for the young person, but also the parents, who are often not aware of their own negative thought cycles. Using an example comparing the thought cycle of a parent and child, and you can clearly see how frustration and misunderstandings can block communication and opportunities to support.

As a mother in one of the case studies says, parents need to be prepared to be on this journey together with their teen. I certainly feel this book provides parents with good practical tools to support their child during their recovery period through which both parties will learn and grow. CBT is a proven therapy and, even though it is a simple concept, it can be incredibly effective.

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


10 February 2016

Can I tell you about anxiety? A guide for friends, family and professionals

Willetts, L., Waite, P., & Tay, K. (2014) Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Megan, a fictitious 10-year-old girl who experiences anxiety, explains the different types of anxiety and the effects it has on her life, and ways that it can be treated. The book says it is suitable for seven years and older. Personally, I feel there are sections that would suit kids aged over 10 with support from an adult when it comes to clinical words and definitions. That said there are pages with simplified text and illustrations that provide more age appropriate information for those under 10.

Can I tell you about anxiety’s friendly approach normalises feelings of anxiety and gives a good baseline to measure against when anxiety gets in the way of everyday activities.

The young reader is regularly reassured that they are not alone, that anxiety can run in families and that children with anxiety have positive traits as well, such as: kind, caring and thoughtful. The story gives the reader hope and a clear message that they can learn skills to cope.

Roles for family, friends and teachers

Support for a young person with anxiety is key and there are several pages detailing how family, friends and teachers can be there for children experiencing anxiety. Interestingly, it notes how parents, often in their desire to protect their child, encourage them to avoid stressful situations. But this means the child doesn’t get the opportunity to learn to cope in stressful situations.

One such tool discussed that can be used to learn coping strategies is the step plan, or hierarchy, where the child chooses a concern, or situation, to work on challenging first. Another suggested approach is to empower, rather than just assure an anxious child that everything will be ok. You can empower a child by asking questions, such as: how are you feeling, what are you thinking and is there another way of approaching this?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is covered with examples, allowing the young person to be their own detective and become more mindful of their thoughts and proactive in choosing new ways of reacting or self-soothing. The bibliography of further books written for young people using CBT principles to cope with anxiety is very useful and these titles would complement what is learnt in Can I tell you about anxiety?

It would be nice to know more about the kids who inspired Megan. Some real life case studies would have added depth. That said, the book brings insight, solid advice and reputable tools to help kids and adults in dealing with anxiety. The book would also help break the ice when broaching the topic, allowing kids an opportunity to think about what might work for them.

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


 3 February 2016

Cultural Safety in Aotearoa New Zealand

Edited by Wepa, D. (2015) Cambridge University Press

In the second edition of Cultural Safety in Aotearoa New Zealand, editor Dianne Wepa exemplifies an array of theoretical and practice-based topics to illustrate what cultural safety means. Wepa focuses on the situations nurses in New Zealand face day-to-day, to help explain the importance of understanding cultural safety while at work.

Wepa came into nursing with the realisation that cultural understanding was missing from the educational system, but she struggled to explain it. For me, it seemed strange that the nursing system didn’t understand cultural safety until Wepa says, “these young people had come to be nurses and the work on racism, cultures and difference that I was offering appeared to have little bearing on nursing which was a profession in their view which cared for people regardless of who they were.”

A person’s culture can never be separated from them

The overarching practice of nurses helping people regardless of any differences, was completely opposite to what Wepa was trying to convey. She explains, “the idea of the nurse ignoring the way in which people measure and define their humanity is unrealistic and inappropriate... People are still prepared to die in order to maintain their cultural, religious and territorial integrity.”

Wepa’s description of cultural safety is exactly what I think every government or company needs in their staff introduction: “Cultural safety offers practitioners an approach to practising ethically. It assumes that it is not possible to fully understand a client’s culture but instead requires professionals to carefully consider the impact of their own cultural history and experience, and how this might impact on the client’s cultural practices.”

Culture can be how you brush your teeth, what you eat for breakfast, what you do and the way you think. It is near impossible to fully understand another culture, but that doesn’t mean you can’t understand cultural safety.

In one section, Wepa creates a hypothetical situation focusing on mental health, providing follow up questions to test your understanding of cultural safety within the situation. I think Wepa’s lens on the topic and how she challenges your understanding of a situation is thought-provoking. The beauty of culture is what makes humans and complex mammals, yet it is because of that cultural complexity that we must practice cultural safety. I believe this book should be taught and discussed throughout New Zealand.

Reviewed by Kate Cherven, Programme Engagement Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation.


27 January 2016

Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha brain one simple practice at a time

Hanson, R. (2011) New Harbinger Publications

Just One Thing is a good book to read upon returning to work as life gets busy again after the holidays. This book was written by Rick Hanson, psychologist and senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center in the US. It is the second of three; Buddha’s Brain was published in 2009 and and Hardwiring Happiness was published in 2013.

As with the other two titles, Just One Thing’s content is well-referenced and backed by emerging research in the positive psychology field, focusing particularly on neuroplasticity – training your brain to better retain positive emotions and experiences. Research shows that short daily brain training practices can change the way your brain works, and protect against stress, lift mood and build emotional resilience.

Just One Thing is simpler than Hanson’s aforementioned titles. No prior knowledge of Buddhism, regular meditation or mindfulness practice is needed to grasp the concepts, it is designed for the average reader to pick and use when inspiration or equally so, desperation strikes.

Befriend your imperfect edges

I like that the book’s philosophy doesn’t imply that you should take a Pollyanna approach to life but instead to acknowledge, validate and befriend your imperfect edges and struggles. It also normalises the many difficulties you encounter, and offers practical advice and steps on how you can work with those difficulties.

The nuggets of wisdom that stood out for me are – be good to yourself, enjoy life as it is, and that it is often the smallest changes that can have the largest impact on your quality of life. All very obvious but sometimes you just need someone to remind and reassure you.

I think it is a book you would keep for life, perhaps for the coffee table or bed side. Flicking through the pages to see which section jumps out to be read, reminds me a bit of the dilemma when faced with choosing from a bag of mixed lollies. Often it is the lollies that look the least appealing that surprise you the most.

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


 20 January 2016

Promoting Health in Aotearoa New Zealand

Edited by Signal, L. & Ratima, M. (2015) Otago University Press

Promoting Health in Aotearoa New Zealand fills a significant gap in health promotion literature that is relevant to Aotearoa. Drawing on the rich experience and knowledge of 25 contributors, the book brings together a comprehensive picture of health promotion in Aotearoa, with a particular focus on Māori health promotion. As such, health promotion in a unique New Zealand context is clearly defined and articulated. For example, the editors have intentionally and successfully created a health promotion text that “integrates Māori and Pākehā analysis, consistent with an approach that emphasises the Treaty [of Waitangi] partnership and indigenous rights”.

Starting with an outline of the history of health promotion in Aotearoa, the book moves on to broadening your understanding of Māori health promotion, including Māori health promotion models and what these look like in practice. Pacific health promotion, and health promotion with immigrant communities are covered, with great examples that bring health promotion work with these communities to life.

The fundamentals of health promotion

Promoting Health in Aotearoa New Zealand then focuses on fundamentals of health promotion; evaluation and intervention design, ethics, equity and politics. Populations (specifically children and young people) and settings as a focus for health promotion are described, along with the challenges and opportunities for developing the health promotion workforce. The book concludes with a chapter on critical reflections and future challenges.

Health promotion is the cornerstone of creating positive mental health. While there are limited references to mental health, the principles, values and practice that underpins the work of the Mental Health Foundation flow through the book, and you are reminded that “good health is a foundation for the achievement of potential for individual, groups of people (including families, whānau, hapū and iwi), and society as a whole.” At the same time, there are key health issues of concern and health inequalities are increasing, to which health promotion can make a difference.

The book is engaging and interesting to read. It includes a good balance between theory and practice, peppered with local examples of initiatives that bring health promotion to life. Promoting Health in Aotearoa New Zealand raises the challenges for health promotion, such as the need for ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of health promotion activities, and the influence political ideology. It’s the “go to” text for all health promotion practitioners, students, and teachers in Aotearoa, and internationally for anyone interested in indigenous health.

Reviewed by Kathryn Nemec, Project Manager, Mental Health Foundation.


 16 December 2015

When life gives you lemons: A resource for young people dealing with depression and anxiety

Painter, C. & Krieble, A. (2015) CreateBooks New Zealand

The minute When life gives you lemons landed in my hands, I smiled. This book is bursting with creativity and spirit which instantly takes you on a journey through the artistic minds of these two teens explaining the complexities of depression and anxiety.

Celia Painter illustrated the book while she was living with depression and anxiety. In the introduction, Painter says how therapeutic it was for her to draw while she was struggling with her own mental health and hopes the images will help others too. Writer Abbie Krieble does an excellent job of explaining mental illness, what the symptoms are and tangible ways to help support yourself and others.

A picture is worth a thousand words

When life gives you lemons is fun and inviting. The information is easy to read and organised with delicately written words and images, helping you grasp medical terms as well as sharing interesting mental health facts and quotes. The images on each page help bring the words to life and express many of the complex feelings that are hard to put into words.

What to do with lemons

When life gives you lemons is a beautiful way to support teens to understand mental illness for themselves and also for friends and family. The authors have created a well-rounded resource that delivers: tangible skills, explanations, understanding and important information on supportive services for teens. I wish I had this book when I was a teenager.

Reviewed by Kate Cherven, Programme Engagement Specialist at the Mental Health Foundation. Read more about Celia Painter and Abbie Krieble.


 9 December 2015

15 steps to overcome anxiety and depression

Barrow, I. (2015)

The documented lived experiences and events in the book allowed me to see, specifically and clearly, how someone can become affected by depression and anxiety. I came away knowing about the need to ensure you have mental balance much like physical balance. Too much tension on one limb could cause it to break – there is no difference with the mind.

15 steps to overcome anxiety and depression is inspiring, it includes exercises to support someone to understand what, how and why they may be experiencing symptoms of fatigue, lack of energy, concentration, irritability, just to name a few. I also learned how, when and what steps one may need to take to overcome this exhausting condition.

Overall, the book acts as a reminder to bring you back to the basics of wellbeing – don’t lose focus of the amazingly wonderful you and your needs.

Reviewed by Noradene Paniora, Maori Development Advisor at the Mental Health Foundation.


2 December 2015

The most good you can do: How effective altruism is changing ideas about living ethically

Singer, P. (2015) Yale University Press

The most good you can do is an inspiring and thought-provoking guide to achieving maximal good in society with the resources you have. Written by internationally renowned philosopher and Princeton University professor Peter Singer, the book explains some of the theory and practical applications of a new philosophy called “effective altruism”.

Effective altruism is a growing social movement, encouraging everyone to give an affordable portion of their limited resources to others (be this time, money, or abilities). These limited resources should be directed towards the people, places, or charities where they will achieve the most good, objectively.

Singer would argue that it’s much more effective to give your $10 to a charity where you know this donation will cure the blindness of 10 children, than it is to give to a charity that cannot produce information on what this $10 will actually achieve. In the case of the latter, how can you know that you’ve actually contributed any good to society?

A convincing philosophy

It’s a convincing philosophy and surely one that Singer argues well. When you give in this way, not only are you making an effective and observable difference to the world, but you’re also helping to bring some meaning and fulfilment to your daily life.

Singer actively encourages you to become effective altruists, by providing a host of strategies and resources to help you decide where to give your limited time, energy, or funds. I particularly appreciated how a section was included on effective New Zealand-based charities to support.

This book serves as a timely reminder that even with your busy schedule and limited funds, you can still make an observable contribution to the lives of others today, through giving effectively.

Reviewed by Kate Loveys, Communications Assistant at the Mental Health Foundation.

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


 25 November 2015

Pay it forward

Hyde, C.R. (2014). Simon & Schuster.

Twelve-year-old Trevor didn’t know how easy it was to change the world. Trevor drives through a rough neighbourhood it’s the middle of the night and he worries if he will survive the night. The car catches fire and he jumps out of the burning car. Two men sprint towards Trevor and he is frightened – the men bravely put the fire out and then they disappear. That experience made Trevor realise the best way to give back to those men who helped him was to do the same to others in need.

A new teacher arrives at Trevor’s school and that teacher changes everything, including Trevor. Trevor’s teachers asks if he would like to do an assignment on changing the world. Trevor’s idea of paying it forward spreads from California and becomes internationally famous.

Trevor’s idea is simple: do a good deed for three people, and instead of asking them to return the favour, ask them to pay it forward to three others who need help. Trevor passed out a small message which became huge and changed the world. Small things can make a huge difference.

His amazing idea means he meets the US president. Trevor is determined to see the light and good inside everyone, even though the world may not always seem too kind.

Reviewed by 11-year-old Kiwa Tipene-Weneti, Chisnallwood Intermediate School, Christchurch.

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


 18 November 2015

Everyday Kindness – Shortcuts to a happier and more confident life

Dowrick, S. (2011) Allen & Unwin

Everyday Kindness lives up to the promise of its title. The central theme focuses on the importance of building kindness into every aspect of your life both towards yourself and others and provides gentle tips for achieving this goal. It covers themes that you can resonate with – from building personal power and self-confidence, to relationships and identity.

Short and easily digested

This book is written in short, digestible paragraphs. The writing style is conversational and anecdotal making it very approachable reading. Everyday Kindness tackles many of the anxieties, fears, stresses and pressures that are common in life but that we often think we’re alone in experiencing.

Reading Stephanie Dowrick is like listening to all of your mother’s best life advice. With clear themes for each chapter, it is the kind of book that you can dip in and out to get valuable advice as you need it. I imagine it could be a useful long-lasting resource as you would relate to different parts of the book at different times in your life.

A little light

Something to be aware of, however, is the brevity means there’s to a lack of depth. Dowrick occasionally falls into the trap of providing easy sounding solutions for what are actually very complex psychological and deep-rooted emotional issues that require a lot of hard work to change. This can leave the reader wanting some more practical next steps for how to tackle these issues with long-lasting impacts. This can also have the unfortunate side effect of making her sound a little preachy at times.

But, don’t let these criticisms put you off reading Everyday Kindness, overall it is a haven of positive, practical life advice and a wonderful place to start for those wanting to build more kindness, generosity and positive wellbeing into their lives.

Reviewed by Hannah Mackintosh, Wellington Timebank Co-ordinator.

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


 11 November 2015

The hidden gifts of helping: How the power of giving, compassion and hope can get us through hard times

Post, S.G. (2011) Jossey-Bass

This is the story of author Stephen Post’s young family who endured the relative trauma of displacement and “placelessness” in moving between towns/cities and states in the US and about social connectedness. And, of course, the book is also about the power of giving; the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

While the situations are different, reading this story prompted me to think about the journey our son, daughter-in-law and 2 year-old granddaughter are taking in their move from New Zealand to Australia. Post talks about the implications and impacts of moving on health, family, friends and community networks. This has been our son’s experience also over the past nine to 12 months.

The giving glow

Post, the founder of the Centre for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, New York, refers to “the gift of the giver’s glow” in his book. In his work with people living dementia and Alzheimer’s – the “deeply forgetful” – he talks about just being with someone helps. “Helping truly does help the helper… giving of yourself to someone else; even the smallest act is healing.”

The hidden gifts of helping also explains how helping others improves mental and emotional health. Another lovely saying Post uses in the book is: “We eat because it keeps us alive and we help others because it keeps us human.” He talks about the act of giving being useful in ameliorating depression as it allows positive emotions like concern and compassion to push aside negative ones.

Helping helps you

Helping others may help you live longer, too. Whenever you die, however old, you will feel young at heart if you live a generous life (research-based findings). Or as Post says: “Reaching out to help others saved my life – or so it feels.”

Post encourages you to think about how you can find the hidden gifts of giving in your life.

Also covered in the book is the gift of hope and hanging on to hope. “We all need a garden of hope in life’s challenging periods – real hope, the kind that grows deep roots.”

Reviewed by Gary Sutcliffe, Consumer Advocate and Peer Support Specialist at East Tamaki Healthcare.

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


4 November 2015

I like giving: Experience the daily miracle of the generous life

Formsma, B. (2014). Waterbrook Press (a division of Random House).

I like giving is a quick read that should inspire you to give more in your daily life. A text based on personal stories and scientific facts, it maintains that your life and the lives of others will be happier if you reach out and lead a generous life.

Acts of kindness will enrich you and others. Your gift can be anything; a smile, a present, a listening ear, a donation or maybe just time. When you focus away from yourself life is more fun and more interesting opportunities can open up for you.

On a scale of one to 10 I think this book is a six. It's a little too religious for my liking but the sentiments are worth taking note of if you are seeking to have a more full filling and generous life.

Reviewed by Wendy Everingham, Lyttelton Harbour Timebank Coordinator.

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


 28 October 2015

The paradox of generosity

Christian, S. & Hilary, D. (2014) Oxford University Press.

The paradox of generosity presents the findings of a US study of adults who completed surveys and gave in-depth interviews regarding their generosity and wellbeing.

The book is divided into five chapters and some of the information is repetitive at times. The first chapter is overwhelmingly about the data with lots of numbers and graphs with more in the appendix for those that are interested.

Persevere through the first chapter and the reward is in the second, where the authors address the sceptics’ question as to whether: people are generous because they are happy, or happy because they are generous? Authors explain causal mechanisms and nine inter-related ways in which generous practices enhance human wellbeing. For example, generosity can trigger chemical systems in the brain and body that increase pleasure and experiences of reward, reduce stress and suppress pain.

Lives of the generous and ungenerous

The final three chapters talk about generous and ungenerous Americans with examples and case studies that show how generosity is practiced or absent in their lives and, what this means for their wellbeing as measured by their happiness, physical health, purpose in life, avoidance of depression and interest in personal growth. The authors conclude that both generous and ungenerous people live lives that are less than ideal, but that generous people are able to take hardships in stride, believing that life is good and still worth living.

Reading this book prompted me to think about my own attitude toward generosity and think more about what I can do with what I have. It helped me broaden my thinking to include more than just financial giving or volunteering time and also to consider the cost of not becoming a more generous person.

The paradox of generosity falls short of explaining how to actually become generous and the authors conclude that those research findings are for another book. However, they definitely achieve their aim of providing a compelling argument that practising generosity really is genuinely good for you.

Reviewed by Katherine McEwing, a part time social worker in schools for Barnardos NZ.

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


 14 October 2015

Why good things happen to good people

Post, S. & Neimark, J. (2007) Broadway Books.

"Giving is the most potent force on the planet," asserts Stephen Post, a bioethicist, founder of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love and co-author with Jill Neimark of Why good things happen to good people. The book explores 10 different ways in which you can give.

Each chapter is packed with stories and anecdotes from academics and noteworthy friends of the authors. There is also plenty of research-based evidence to support the case that giving is not only good for the receiver, but, also benefits the giver. The authors cite many studies, for example one study shows that people who are giving during their school years have better physical and mental health throughout their entire lives. Other studies show that older people who give live longer than those who don’t give.

Self-help and compelling science

The book is also a self-help manual, each chapter ends with a self-review questionnaire for the reader who wants to assess how they measure up on each of the 10 items on the giving scales. There are also lists of practical actions you could take to improve your own wellbeing through acts of giving. This aspect is somewhat gimmicky and adds little to the overall flow and sense of the book. The science in the book is compelling. Who wouldn’t want to live a longer happier life in a happier world?

Reviewed by Belinda Sharp, an Organisational Development Specialist with Barnardos New Zealand.

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


 7 October 2015

Born to be good: The science of a meaningful life

Keltner, D. (2009). W.W. Norton & Company.

Dacher Keltner’s book is filled with a wealth of interesting anecdotes and references to research, including his own, that show human beings are built to cooperate with and care for each other. Keltner explains the origins of human goodness are rooted in your emotions and in the first part of the book, he walks you through decades of evolutionary research showing humans are actually wired for good.

Keltner and like-minded scientists conclude compassion and the desire to work in with others are contagious emotions and the likelihood of spreading them across people and space increases as more people show kindness to another. Even hearing about the good acts of others can inspire within you the desire to reach out in caring ways to others. I see this at the early years hub. When parents hear stories about what other parents have shared or donated, immediately they start to think about what they could do.

Being good to each other

Warm smiles, laughter, caring touches, playful light-hearted movements and gentle teasing; are all expressions of positive emotions which can be gained through connecting in healthy, respectful ways with others. Not only do the hormones released by such behaviour increase our own wellbeing and quiet “the press of self-interest” but they also promote wellbeing others.

The pursuit of happiness and success often refers to sensory pleasures or material wealth. Keltner points out that what is missing in such discourse is the language and practice of emotions like compassion, gratitude, amusement and wonder.

In a nutshell, this book provides scientific data to prove what we all already know; it feels good to love and care for others and those feelings enhance our own wellbeing. If you enjoyed Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease, you will also like reading Born to be good.

Reviewed by Jacinta Liddell, Project Leader Levin Early Years Hub.

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


 30 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.


23 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 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


 9 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 lost 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.


 2 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.


 26 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.


 19 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.


 12 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 mortal5 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


 29 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

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


 15 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.


 8 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.


 1 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.


 24 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.


17 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.


 10 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 time3 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.


 27 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.


 20 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.


 13 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.


 6 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.


 29 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.


22 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 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.


 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


 1 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


 25 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.


 

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


 4 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.


 25 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 & 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.


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.


 4 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.


 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.


 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.


 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.


 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.


3 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.


 26 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.


 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


 12 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


 5 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


 29 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


 22 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


15 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


 8 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.


 1 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.


 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.


 17 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.


 10 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.


 3 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.