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The Good Life –
Hugh McKay
The Brain That
Changes Itself –
Norman Doidge
Requiem for a
Species –
Clive Hamilton
Reasons to
Stay Alive –
Matt Haige
A short History
of Progress –
Ronald Wright
Emotional Intelligence:
why it can matter

more than IQ -
Daniel Goleman
The Idiot Brain -
Dean Burnett

Reasons to Stay Alive

by Matt Haig, published by Canongate books Ltd 2015 

ISBN 978 78211 508 3

 An excellent book summarising how one can feel when depression hits. The author gives a very personal account of his own problems with the ‘Black dog’. He describes how at one stage he very nearly committed suicide, but was able to recover and get on with his life to become a successful author.

 Key feature in the book is the emphasis on the fact that everybody is different and that minds are unique. The depression that affects one person may be very different to depression in another. As an example of this Matt Haig says that drugs had no effect on his situation, but readily admits that other people may find drugs helpful.

The author’s problems started when he was an early teenager and he was teased and bullied by other people. While this did not lead to depression at that stage in his life, he believes it was the underlying factor in depression, which arose when he was 24.

The book goes into personal details of the author’s own experience and it also has facts and information about depression and about some of the many famous people who have suffered. The book claims that 1 million people per year commit suicide and between 10 and 20 million attempt suicide, worldwide. Men are 3 times more likely to kill themselves than women. It is also claimed that one in 5 people get depression at some time in their lives. Antidepressants are on the rise everywhere – the highest consumption being in Iceland followed by Australia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Portugal and the UK. Women are more likely to seek and receive treatment for mental health problems than men.

The book gives a long list of well-known people who have suffered depression. These include: Buzz Aldrin, Winston Churchill, Steven Fry, Judy Garland, Anne Hathaway, Abraham Lincoln, Wolfgang Mozart, Isaac Newton, Princess Diana and many others. The author speculates that perhaps the depression makes thinkers out of those who have it and perhaps in some cases, the depression has helped them in the work they have done. This concept is not considered very deeply in the book, but perhaps it is something that is worth considering further.

 The author made a social media request asking people to send him a ‘Twitter’ comment, giving a reason for them to stay alive. He received a large number of responses. These are fascinating to look at and occupy one chapter of the book. These are some of the items mentioned: “Friends, family, acceptance and knowing the Black dog will leave eventually”; “Very simply my children – they didn’t ask to be born to a mum who at times struggles to keep together”; “The hole you leave behind is bigger than the pain you suffer by being”; “Not everyone thinks you’re as much a waste of space as you do when you’re in the depths of depression – trust others”.

 He has a wonderful chapter that he calls “How to Live (40 pieces of advice I feel to be helpful but which I don’t always follow)”. Picking out a few of these:

There are many other items in his wonderful list.

 This is indeed an excellent book for anyone feeling they may be moving into depression and for anyone who has a friend or relative in depression. As he says everybody is different, but there are some common themes which can help all of us. I recommend the book to anyone who wants to get an insight into how some of us think. In fact I recommend it for everyone. It is easy and fun to read!

 RH Brown

17 June 2015

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