Book Review: Positive Mental Health

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Authors: Dr Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability at Royal Mail Group & Andrew Kinder, Professional Head of Mental Health Services at Optima Health

I interviewed co-author Dr Shaun Davis at the Mad World Summit in October 2019 about his new book, ‘Positive Mental Health – Overcoming Mental Health Problems’. For a co-written book it flows seamlessly, with Shaun saying this was due to “teamwork”, agreeing what content was “negotiable or non-negotiable” and “balancing clinical and practitioner perspectives”. Their expertise shines through and the practical and punchy format makes the guidance easy to follow.

Shaun said the book is aimed at people like his steelworker father who need access to quick advice. While you could fit it in the pocket of your workman’s trousers, it should resonate with all professions.  In an age where time is precious and attention spans are short, the behavioural prompts can help anyone who wants to stay well or get better. 

So, if your mind starts to wander while reading it, put it down and do something useful or fun. Self-help books should be tools for living, not permanent crutches that slow down your recovery. 

Life transitions

The book takes you back to different stages of your life. Moving away from home for the first time, the pressure of the university experience, the perils of early adulthood and building a new identity as you enter the world of work. 

Just as you discover the new you, along come parenthood, relationship breakdowns, menopause, bereavement and empty nest syndrome. Even the chapters that do not apply to you are interesting as it helps you understand what other people are going through.

I can picture people reading it in wellbeing rooms or line managers flicking through it for information before asking a distressed colleague if they are feeling depressed or anxious. It covers mental health triggers such as burnout, bullying, loneliness, trauma, financial worries and work-related stress. It gives a snapshot of why people feel this way and a bullet point checklist on what to do about it.  

It is inclusive with guidance on LGBTQ mental health; and takes a non-judgemental approach to eating disorders, gambling, alcoholism and suicidal thoughts.  The quick wins on how to live a healthier lifestyle, exercise more, and break free from your smart phone may be harder to achieve in practice so be patient and keep going.

Nudging positive behaviours

This book is not designed to solve problems. Its purpose is to encourage understanding and nudge people towards fighting back against mental ill health and regaining control of their lives. It champions mindfulness to tap into the changing attitude to meditation and living in the moment.  

My favourite chapter was ‘Nurturing Our Self Awareness’ as it highlighted the need to learn about yourself, accepting change as you mature and grow and how to be the person you want to be, while adapting your behaviour to help others feel comfortable and flourish. The most useful chapter was ‘Your mental health at work’ as HR and wellbeing professionals could extract key pointers for reports, presentations and blogs on supporting mental health in the workplace.

When I was going through a dark time many years ago, I would have read it on the train where no one knew me, in an office toilet cubicle, and while I was in bed trying to get to sleep.  The emergence of the wellbeing culture means people should feel comfortable reading it in public and discussing it on social media and with colleagues, friends and family.

Constructive feedback

The book does flit between ending mental health with problems, issues, challenges and conditions, which shows how difficult it is to keep up with the ever-changing mental health vocabulary. I believe challenges is now the preferred term.

I thought the quotes at the end of each chapter were contributions from the two authors about their mental health challenges, but then I read “Motherhood has also helped me to deal with a lack of sleep in a better way, and now I’m used to having disrupted sleep but being able to cope!” While I wanted to know more about the people sharing their insights, it’s this urge to know people’s secrets which stops those in emotional distress from talking about their feelings as they don’t know if they can trust you. Reading this book can increase your understanding of mental health and help you build rapport and trust with people who need your help.

Although the book is written for a UK audience it does have some American spellings such as maximizing, stigmatized and recognize. This seems to be a creeping trend for UK books especially the use of organization, or maybe Microsoft Word just has the wrong language settings for UK writers. But if this book is a bestseller across the Atlantic, the guidance on protecting my self-esteem will help me move on from this error of judgement and get ready to smash through the barriers in front of me.

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