Book Review:  Looking After Your Mental Health

Book Review:  Looking After Your Mental Health

This is the sort of book that I wish had been around when my children were younger. Looking After Your Mental Health is a great “how to” book for every young person. It is also the book every parent needs to start some of those difficult conversations.

The authors James & Stowell review almost every issue that has an impact on the mental health of young people. Written in “their” language, the chapters are short, the font is easy to read, and it is loaded in graphics and pictures. You don’t have to start at the beginning and progress through – just dip in and out as you see something that catches your eye or a topic of interest.

“Looking after Your Mental Health” starts at the beginning with “What is mental health?” A good question. We must talk about mental health more in general, but in particular with our children. Back in February 2016 the Independent published an article about the teenage mental health crisis and noted that the rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years.  It also cited a Girl Guides attitudes survey that found that mental health was one of the most pressing concerns, with 62% of those surveyed knowing a girl their age who has struggled with mental health problems.

Looking After Your Mental Health

Looking After Your Mental Health by Alice James& Louie Stowell

Chapters include subjects that have a huge impact on our young people – what happens in the minds, their bodies, and their feelings as they grow up. It talks about friends (and includes bullying), family (and all the different meanings that has today), sex and romance, the internet (and cyberbullying), difficult times and mental health problems. It touches on the actual mental health problems of depression and anxiety and touches on eating disorders (not a mental health problem, but a behaviour covering emotional pain). Of course, it includes some sound suggestions about finding help – talking to those closest to you for starters and a range of really useful and practical suggestions in its “Try This” sections. The glossary of terms in the back is useful to understand some of the jargon.

It does not cover a lot of actual mental health conditions (there is no mention of OCD, PTSD, acute stress disorder, phobias, psychosis, or self-harm (eating disorders’ sibling). There is no mention of contraception and safe sex (but it does talk about the emotional side of sex and saying “No”); nor of sexually transmitted diseases which may make it easier for children at the lower end of the recommended age range (9 – 18) to cope with. It does not mention the overlaying of mental health issues occurring with other conditions such as ADHD, Autism or chronic illnesses. But in not mentioning these it creates space for further discussion around the dinner table with the family.

I believe “Looking after Your Mental Health” is a really useful starter book with sound advice for some of the issues affecting our young people today. It is published by Usborne Books, so is available from your local friendly Usborne rep. If you don’t have one then please contact mine – Tracy Hickson – here.

Book Review:  Looking After Your Mental Health by Alice James & Louie Stowell, 2018, Usborne, London. ISBN




BOOK REVIEW: Mental Health Aspects of Autism and Asperger Syndrome

BOOK REVIEW: Mental Health Aspects of Autism and Asperger Syndrome

By Mohammad Ghaziuddin (2005) Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Leaping in at the deep end is something I do occasionally. Recently I committed to doing what I do – deliver mental health awareness and first aid courses; this time to the staff and support workers at a residential college specialising in teaching young people (16+) affected by Asperger syndrome and high functioning autism.

Now, I have to admit, my knowledge of Pervasive Developmental Disorders including the autistic spectrum, was brief, from work I did years ago with people affected by ADHD. Back then I saw almost every condition including ADHD due to the generally inadequate support of childhood conditions where I was living. So knowing I needed to brush up my knowledge I asked my LinkedIn network for recommendations of specialists I could approach for advice on the overlap of mental health conditions and pervasive developmental disorders (PDD’s). Following a couple of recommendations, I bought a copy of Ghaziuddin’s book. Quite frankly, for the layperson/psychotherapist and possibly as an introduction to the subject for trainee psychologists/psychiatrists, I think this book is brilliant.

The main focus is autism, but once you understand autism the other PDD’s fall into place by exception and their uniquely different traits. For example, people diagnosed with Asperger syndrome are generally communicative with a “normal” or higher IQ; those with autism are non-communicative and can have a low IQ; those with high functioning autism are also non-communicative and have a normal or high IQ.

Mental Health Aspects of Autism & Asperger Syndrome

Mental Health Aspects of Autism & Asperger Syndrome by Mohammad Ghaziuddin

For each PDD he explains what it is, it’s historical background and prevalence, causes, clinical features, diagnosis, conditions it may be confused with (and why) and what treatments/therapies or interventions are applicable. Each chapter has an extensive reference list for further study.

There follows a chapter on medical conditions in autism, something I had not previously thought about, but which make a significant impact on an affected individual and their family when combined with PDD’s. Such medical conditions include mental retardation and seizures (or forms of epilepsy) and a whole range of specific conditions including gene disorders (Fragile X and Down syndrome) and disorders caused by viruses (cytomegalovirus, herpes, etc).

Next Ghaziuddin covers general psychiatric disorders that occur in people affected by PDD’s. He writes “All psychiatric disorders cause distress, and affect the life of the individual in a negative way.”  At this point, I was gaining an understanding of just how complicated PDD’s can be with multiple conditions affecting an individual (the PDD, the medical and the psychiatric).  He has an insightful diagram in this section that shows how the comorbidities overlap each other.  This explains why no two cases present the same and why treatment programmes must be individualised to address the individual’s particular needs. It also explains why getting a diagnosis can be challenging and why treatment may be a complicated matter posing the question of what to treat first (and why). We must also remember that no individual is alone; there are a family and a community of people around each one that may need support too.

Useful case studies are included with many of the explanations of the conditions throughout the book which help the reader gain understanding of them. A whole chapter addresses ADHD and PDD. Further chapters are dedicated to depression and mood disorders; anxiety disorders; Schizophrenia and psychotic disorders; tic disorders and Tourette syndrome and “other” psychiatric disorders.

The issue of violence is addressed late in the book but we are challenged to think about the definition of violence (should it include verbal threats or just behaviour resulting in a criminal conviction?). The role of the media and the perceptions it fosters are another issue – are people with PDD more likely to be the offenders or the victims of violence? The assessment and treatment of violent behaviour need to be handled carefully. Think about how frustrating it must be to be unable to communicate what your needs are and to not have them met?

The final chapter is a long-term view – the task ahead.  Ghaziuddin quite rightly points out that “Carrying a diagnosis of autism and Asperger syndrome does not confer immunity against other medical or psychiatric disorders.” Whilst research into the mental health conditions affecting people with PDD’s is in its infancy and the need for early diagnosis and treatment is important, getting that diagnosis and treatment is another challenge complicated further where there are overlapping conditions. Hovering in the background is the family of the affected person and the attendant discrimination applied against any mental health disorder in the media and often by the community at large. The need to disseminate facts not fantasy about PDD’s and all mental health conditions will be one small change in making society more supportive of all such conditions.

You can order your own copy of this book here.


Eight Useful Self-help books

Eight Useful Self-help books

A couple of years ago I learned a new word – bibliotherapy. It’s pronounced bib-lee-o-ther-uh-pee. The Merriam Webster Dictionary meaning is preferred (it is simpler than some I have seen): the use of reading materials for help in solving personal problems or for psychiatric therapy. The beginning of the year is a good time to decide to read a book (or two) either for the purpose of self-help or therapy or for personal development, but there are so many books out there, where to start?

Medical support for mental ill health can be expensive or difficult to access due to the need to get referrals and long waiting lists. For mild and moderate stress, anxiety and depression there is a lot we can do to help ourselves if we choose. Over the past year or two, I have reviewed some great books very suited to bibliotherapy and summarise eight of them here. Follow the links to the full reviews.

1 Achieving Self Compassion, giving yourself the gifts of happiness and inner peace

Achieving Self Compassion by Nate Terrell

Achieving Self Compassion – Giving yourself the gifts of happiness and inner peace by Nate Terrell

Looking after ourselves, making sure we get what we need in the right amounts (enough rest and relaxation for example) is one of the toughest challenges to the human condition. Saying “No” is the hardest two letter word in the English language and I am sure it is in most languages. This great read explains what self-compassion is, our need for it, the benefits of it and how to go about getting more of it.

The full review is here.









2 Hygge

Great Little Book of Hygge

Meik Wiking The Little Book of Hygge – The Danish Way to Live Well

The Danes have a lead on us here and we benefit enormously from taking note and following their example. You know that wonderful, cozy feeling that we get on a cold day, in front of a log fire with a blanket, a book and a mug of hot chocolate? That is hygge. It is part of the self-compassion mentioned above. It encompasses our emotions and experiences. We can quite easily create it for ourselves and our friends. This book is filled with everything hygge.

The full review is here.









3 Rise, surviving and thriving after trauma

Surviving and thriving after trauma

The hardback book copy of the cover photograph. Rise – surviving and thriving after trauma

This one is about resilience in action, what it is and how we develop it. It includes stories of trauma and people rising to overcome the trauma. Written by Sian Williams of BBC Breakfast fame it is an informative and personal story embellished with the experiences of others – we all find something to relate to in it.

The full review is here.










4 The Sticking Point

The Sticking Point

The Sticking Point by Steve Thomson

Life is lived in phases and experienced in stages. Some parts of life may be painful. What do you do with the pain you experience in life? Do you process it? Do you collect it and carry it around with you, slowly accumulating a pile? As an analogy the Sticking Point is both refreshing and surprising – so what do we do with our piles of sticks?

The full review is here.






5 Susan’s Brother

Susan's Brother

Susan’s Brother by James Marinero

It is shocking that a child can be treated in such a way, the beauty of this book is the story of a boy’s resilience and his ability to overcome the trauma. It is a reminder that no matter how bad life may seem to us, things may seem bleak and yet, can still be overcome.

The full review is here.









6 Who Moved My Cheese?

Who Moved My Cheese

Who Moved My Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson

Often used as a “how to be a better manager read” it also has valuable lessons in dealing with stress and change. Change is one of those things that many of us struggle to adapt to. The analogy in the story teaches us a lot.

The full review is here.









7 Your Other Half, the guide to better relationships

Your Other Half

Your Other Half – The Guide to Better Relationships with Yourself & Others

If you have struggled to make and keep great relationships with significant others then this one is for you. Packed with ideas and suggestions to consider how you behave and what you could do better/try out. If you always do what you have always done, then you shouldn’t be surprised if you always get what you’ve always got. Here’s how to change the pattern, create a new mold and work towards meaningful relationships.

The full review is here.








8 The Presenter’s Edge

Gavin Meikle

The Presenter’s Edge – How to Unlock Your Inner Speaker

Most of us at some point have to give a presentation or talk in public. If you have never done it before it can be quite daunting. This is a great little book packed with practical information. It is a quick read and can be dipped into as needed.

The full review is here.



BOOK REVIEW: ACHIEVING SELF COMPASSION – Giving yourself the gifts of happiness and inner peace

BOOK REVIEW: ACHIEVING SELF COMPASSION – Giving yourself the gifts of happiness and inner peace

By Nate Terrell 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5049-4901-9(sc)

ISBN: 978-1-5049-4904-0 (e)

In his introduction, Nate Terrell writes “Our ability to meet the needs of others is largely contingent on our ability to treat ourselves with compassion. Our subsequent sense of happiness, inner peace and wholeness frees us to give to other people without depleting ourselves.”  (Author’s emphasis.) This is THE key to a happy and fulfilled life. So often we grow up or raise our children to give to others first believing that is right and then cannot understand why they suffer “donor fatigue,” burn out or worse.

By denying ourselves self-care we drain our tank. So it should not be a surprise that burnout happens and we suffer a variety of symptoms: dissatisfaction with our life, stress, depression, sadness, anger, emotional avoidance, misery, relationship issues, insecurity, loss of self-esteem and self-confidence and stagnation in our personal development.

Looking after ourselves is not selfish. It is vital to our wellbeing. How can we care for others if we do not care for ourselves? Giving to others, the needy does not replenish us, it drains us. The emphasis we are encouraged to reflect is the reverse of what we actually need. But why, what does self-compassion do for us? Why do we need it? Self-compassion validates who we are, giving us positive energy for life (not just mere existence); it is an emotional boost that enables us to weather life’s storms and be resilient (bouncing forwards after a challenge or crisis). Self-compassion empowers us to change ourselves, to grow and personally develop as individuals. It also enables us to let go of what we cannot change, to accept it and release it. Now, who doesn’t want this or need this in their life?

In “Achieving Self Compassion” Nate details in short chapters how we can achieve self-compassion for ourselves. How we can continually top up our tank to have enough to share. He does not use complicated, difficult or academic language; he uses the language we use daily. You do not always need help to achieve self-compassion. The beauty of this book is #changeonething and do it for yourself! Across ten chapters the author gives us different routes to achieving self-compassion, different routes to re-filling our tanks. We can do this for ourselves. It is not selfish, it is imminently sensible.

Whilst reading the book (most of it twice) I found some pointers resonated more loudly than others. The ones that resonate are the ones I need to work on. For example, I have developed a pretty good sense of self over the years, what I am good at or not, so tuning into my authentic self and listening to the still small voice within is fairly easy for me (Chapter 8). On the other hand, I do have to work on accepting/believing I have intrinsic worth and am inherently worthy, so chapter 3 is one I shall re-read. It reminds me of other work I have done which I may benefit by re-revisiting using the recommended strategies at the end of that chapter.

An addition I think would be useful is an associated workbook associated that connects to the “Try These Strategies for Size” at the end of each chapter. Yes, Nate is really practical with his suggestions here. Okay, create your own – grab a notebook, write down the strategies, think about and record what you should do and can change to be more self-compassionate. I still think a guided workbook would be useful, it creates accountability and a permanent record of our growth, our change, our development in self—compassion; a record we can refer back to (and is less likely to be tossed out than a notebook). It will be a reminder of the self- development we have done and of what we have achieved. Nate – there’s another book here!

Achieving Self Compassion can be purchased here.



Book Review: Book Marketing Made Simple

Book Review: Book Marketing Made Simple

By Karen Williams, 2017

ISBN: 978-09957390-2-4 (print)

ISBN: 978-0-9957390-3-1 (e-book)

So you are probably wondering what am I up to now? Well, I have met so many people with incredible stories about overcoming diversity and being resilient around their mental health issues that it makes a lot of sense to encourage them to write their story down and share it. Help me make a difference in the world, one person at a time. Once written it aught to be published and a lot of people wonder how do I do that? Don’t I need an agent and a publisher? Well, maybe BUT one of the options is to self publish and it is not as expensive or as difficult as you may think.

If you have ever wondered what to do with your manuscript once you think it is perfect, wonder no more. They say, whoever “they” are, that there’s a book in all of us. Reading Karen Williams’ “Book Marketing Made Simple” has made me seriously consider mine! It is aimed at the business owner with a view to using the book to grow the business. That said, there is a LOT of information on book marketing that applies directly to your autobiography, your fantasy or dramatic fiction and even a children’s book.

I started with the lovely feel of the book, mine is a softback. It is well bound with a great cover image that is not overly busy. Your light bulb moment is there on the cover where some of the subjects to be found inside are listed. It is written in an easy to read font which enhances a very practical layout. The book is packed full of information and covers an enormous variety of marketing tips and tricks to get your book in front of your chosen audience. When I say packed, I do mean packed, extensive. What it also really good though is that the layout enables you to find the bit you want very easily. The chapters are in a logical order with pre-launch, launch and post launch strategies.

It may seem logical but as Karen writes in her opening “The biggest mistake authors make is failing to promote their book at all stages of its creation.” To realise the significance of that point and how to do it you really do need to read the book, I couldn’t make the point better, or clearer than she has. So if you have the idea, I recommend you read the book, make your plans and only then start writing. I am convinced your success rate will be far greater and faster than without it.

Okay, so you already have a manuscript, you view yourself as an author (not a marketing person) and have just read my last paragraph and want to give up right now and bin it. PLEASE DON’T. The beauty of Karen’s book is that even if you have leapt in where angels fear to tread and have a manuscript in hand the situation can be redeemed. It does mean that you have an advantage instead of writing and marketing together you get to spend more time on dedicated marketing (which I should warn you might in turn lead to a bit of re-writing as you define your market of readers and what they want/need better – but hey, you do want to sell more copies, don’t you?).

The writing style is that of a work book. Read a bit, think a bit, do a bit and this is helped by the Things to Think About – the space Karen creates for you to make your notes directly into your copy of the book. If writing in a book is sacrilege to you then get a notebook and follow her prompts. These notes become your action plan – what to do, when and where will help to hold you accountable and follow the marketing process through. Another point that is made clearly – if you find something doesn’t work, there are other opportunities for you to explore that may work better or simply be more comfortable for you to do. So you do have options and choices – everything from traditional printed media (flyers, brochures and newspaper adverts) through to social media (and which ones to use and how/why/when), vlogs and webinars. In so doing “Book Marketing Made Simple” does that and enables you to create your own step by step guide.

Karen adds a dash of reality by spicing her book with case studies from her clients and personal experience. These really do add a sense of “can do” and “it is possible”, especially as the case studies follow several authors through the various stages of their book journey detailing their experiences along the way. These are real live authors doing what you want to do – making a success of their book and their business.

To ensure she gives the reader the best information possible for this time, Karen quotes from experts in their fields such as Ellen Watts for Crowdfunding, Samantha Pearce the book designer for information on Nielsen Books (and ISBN related stuff), Naomi Johnson for LinkedIn, DiElle Hannah for voice over tips (for recording your CD version and podcasts), Mark Edmunds on making videos and Steve Bimpson on search engine optimisation.

Karen brings her personal experience to bear. She knows book publishing from the inside, this is her 5th book and she has directly marketed them all. She is sharing her personal knowledge to enable you to create your book, grow your company and enjoy the ride. It will be a lot smoother following the path Karen lays out for us in Book Marketing Made Simple.

Now then, where is my paper and pen, time to start writing that plan and re-reading from Page 1! What about you? Your story is worth sharing too!


Copies of Book Marketing Made Simple can be found here.


Hygge and Good Mental Health

Hygge and Good Mental Health

There is something special about spending time outside, with friends around a campfire. The togetherness, a hot drink, clutching a mug, telling stories. Closeness. Laughter.

The Danish call it hygge (pronounced “hooggah”). Meik Wiking describes hygge as cocoa by candlelight. Others translate it as “the art of creating intimacy” or “coziness of the soul”. In its essence, hygge can be described as the feel-good factor binding ourselves to others. There are a lot of other factors but they distill down to great mental health, a “with it in the moment” time.

Meik’s lovely book “The Little Book of Hyyge – the Danish way to live well” is packed with all things hygge. But then as the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, he should know. To create the right atmosphere we need to follow a few guidelines from lighting (candles), food (of the comfort variety, of course) and clothing (comfy and relaxed) and of course (but not essential) friends. The atmosphere of hygge is sumptuous and feeds all our senses. If it is taste, the food is sweet and delicious or has added richness. The sound of hygge is waves lapping on a beach, a splashing waterfall or fountain, wind in the trees or the gentle luffing of sails. What does hygge smell like? Like the first rains after a long dry spell, of fresh bread or a roast cooking, or early morning freshness and flowers. Hygge feels like a warm wool sweater, the smoothness of a wooden table or a ceramic mug, of fur, throws and leather, it is warm, rustic and organic. To see hygge we look at the glow of logs in a fire, or the northern lights dancing overhead and stars on a crisp cold night, of lightening outside when we are cozy inside, of gently falling snow in the darkness, at a flickering candled flame.

Great hygge and good mental health are well matched. To learn more, read Meik’s book obtainable here.

Hygge around a campfire

Togetherness, with friends around a campfire.Special times and special memories.

Book Review: Rise – Surviving and Thriving after Trauma by Sian Williams

Book Review: Rise – Surviving and Thriving after Trauma by Sian Williams

Much of Sian William’s story is my story; Rise – surviving and thriving after trauma is about surviving the trauma of and treatment for breast cancer and rediscovering how to thrive afterward. Surviving is the glass half full adage, whereas thriving is that glass overflowing.

In 2011, I too was diagnosed with DCIS, three tumors (as an A cup on a “fat day” I wondered how we missed them until they hurt). The treatment plan was a mastectomy, 25 doses of radiotherapy followed up with 5 years of Tamoxifen and 2 years of Megestrol. It was an emotional roller coaster. Every twinge caused a panic – was it back? Was it secondary’s?   Last week I was drug-free for a year; discharged from medical care; permitted to rediscover my life; for now at least. A relief, to live again. It is important to remember, to note, that thriving is at a higher level than surviving.

Post-cancer Sian and I have our lives back. They are different lives from what they were. We are on a new journey, and ought to enjoy the ride. But everything has changed, everything we were, everything we knew and understood has gone. Our lives, our loves, our priorities are different.

Like Sian and I, you progress from the trauma of the diagnosis and treatment, through to surviving – a numbed existence, a going through the motions. Slowly we move to the “other side” wherever that is. We rediscover our voice, our identity, our compassion; we find new words and coping strategies and get back to actual personal growth. We relearn how to breathe, to be happy and to laugh again, to write and talk, to sleep and eat, even to move. We finally get to pull it all together and live again.

Sian brings in some excellent biographical stories of others’ trauma, including PTSD and their journey through to living again. She draws on her knowledge of psychology (she is working on her Master’s degree) and her work experiences with journalists and film crews in war zones at the BBC. Reading Sian’s story I related, I understood and I finally felt understood.

If you want to know what it’s like to survive and thrive after breast cancer or what it might be like to thrive after a trauma, and what resilience is and how it might help you and can be bolstered to support your through then this book is definitely for you. If you have been there and done that and are wondering about getting your life grounded again, then this book is also for you.

If you are just plain curious what it’s like for those who’ve been there and come through that or if you need to understand for counseling or therapy training, then this book is also for you.

Thank you, Sian, for your honesty and frankness in writing this book, it is liberating to at last know that I was not and am not alone.

The paperback copy can be obtained here.