Friday 24 November 2017

Self-help books and long weekends

Dr Eddie Murphy
Dr Eddie Murphy

One of the joys of a long weekend, apart from lying in, is browsing books that are sitting on your bookshelf begging to be opened. I had the opportunity to read some volumes that recently arrived from publishers. Two of these will be of interest to the readers of this column and will help them and those they care about in their struggle with mental health difficulties.

Whether they are trying to find a way through anger issues, or mood disorders, low self-worth or suicidal thoughts, there is something in each of these books that will empower them with knowledge or arm them with skills.

The first is Suicide. A Modern Obsession by Derek Beattie, a social researcher, and Patrick Devitt a Dublin-based psychiatrist colleague. It is published by Liberties Press. This is a mixture of stories and science.

It tells of the tragic weeks before the death by suicide of several men and women and discusses the reactions of their families and the efforts they made to try and prevent this outcome.

It is clear from the presentation of these case reports that the authors are clinicians used to working on the ground with those who are suicidal and with the stress that suicidal behaviour places on their families. This gives more credibility to the science they assiduously draw on throughout, in a style that is accessible to those non-medically trained.

The authors do not reach for easy or even intuitive options for preventing suicide and it is meticulously grounded in research.

It outlines the two broad approaches - the measures that tackle the problem at a population level, such as reducing access to poisons and firearms, and those that are useful for high-risk individuals, including those with mental illnesses and those who self-harm.

It restates the view that not all suicides can be prevented, and courageously says: "To claim, as the World Health Organization recently has, that suicides are preventable is a little misleading."

I have in mind those impulsive young men, without any mental illness, who under the influence of alcohol or other substances, end their lives without warning in response to personal crises such as a broken relationship.

Finally, there is the prediction of suicide and the writers accept that suicide cannot be predicted. In this respect, their chapter 'Misunderstand Suicide, a Case Study: Ireland's Abortion Legislation' examines the assumptions on which the legislation is based - namely that a not-insignificant number of suicidal pregnant women will kill themselves unless they are granted an abortion, that doctors can identify these, that abortion can be an effective intervention for a suicidal pregnant woman, and that it is unlikely that large numbers of pregnant women will feign suicidal ideation.

Here, too, the authors focus on evidence and ask: "Can we reasonably expect the State to introduce other evidence-based policies that relate to suicide when, on this occasion, evidence was at best not taken sufficiently into account and, at worst, blatantly ignored?"

This book should be read not just by those directly affected by suicide, but by all who have to face it in the course of their work, such as teachers and clergymen

The second book that I can highly recommend is very different and more broadly focussed on stress, panic and anxiety, anger and shyness. However, it does discuss depression and suicide also. Becoming your Real Self. A Practical Toolkit for Managing Life's Challenges is written by Dr Eddie Murphy, a clinical psychologist best known for his part in the TV show, Operation Transformation.

This is a very practical book that an individual could use to get them started in the self-management of the common mental health difficulties faced by many in our society.

The therapeutic focus is on mindfulness and cognitive therapy, using practical examples to illustrate the tools of treatment. These real-life case studies bring the book to life and will no doubt help the reader identify with the therapeutic approach.

It provides self-monitoring questionnaires for a range of problems in the appendix that include social anxiety, emotional-eating, depression and so on. It usefully concludes with the most important question - how to choose a therapist.

This book is very easy to read and at just over €20 is an affordable step toward helping and healing yourself.

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