Bibliophile | ‘This Book will Change Your Mind about Mental Health’

This Book will Change Your Mind about Mental Health
by Nathan Filer
Allen & Unwin

Nathan Filer is a mental health nurse whose novel about a young man grieving the loss of his brother (The Shock of the Fall) was a best-seller that has been translated into 30 languages. It took him 9 years to write and although he never specifies the mental illness, the young man in the book suffers from schizophrenia.

So many people responded to the fiction with their own stories that Filer has taken some of these stories to look at the diagnosis, the stigma, the causes, the delusions and the hallucinations of this mental illness. He also investigated the medication and the things that ‘patient information leaflets’ don’t tell.

R D Laing described schizophrenia as “a special strategy that a person invents in order to live in an unlivable situation” but, in caring for patients with the mental illness, Filer could see that popular knowledge on most mental illnesses was often based on ignorance and misinformation.

As Filer notes, “nothing in the world of mental health is uncontroversial” but “when we are talking about mental illness, we are talking about people”. The reader gets to walk in some people’s shoes for a while and find out the difficulties in defining and treating very real and sometimes unbearable pain. As ordinary people recount bizarre beliefs, there is a truth, logic and a desperate emotional need to their behaviours.

The book has interesting discussion about the dark art of psychopharmacology and how chemicals can help but also harm and shape the way we think about mental illness. With experts seeing major holes in theories, the mind-altering substances that change behaviours might not be the best way forward.

Filer points out that the mad, mad world of mental health is messy and chaotic, and things are always changing. It was only in 1974 that homosexuality was taken off the list of mental illnesses and masochistic personality disorder (read: the domestic violence you’re suffering is your own fault) appeared on the list in 1987.

“It can be extremely difficult to make sense of, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. There’s a frailty to the mental health of everyone. It serves us all to be part of the conversation.” This book gives the reader a chance to be informed and be part of that conversation.

Lezly Herbert

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