Book review: Changing Minds: The Go-To Guide to Mental Health

Changing Minds: The Go-To Guide to Mental Health for You, Family and Friends by Dr Mark Cross and Dr Catherine Hanrahan
Review by Kylie Thompson

Genre: self-help, mental health

Sane Australia says that 45% of Australians will experience a mental disorder. It’s a safe bet that most of us will be in the peripheries, or even the front lines, of a loved ones experience with mental illness. And yet, we shy away from admitting to mental health issues, let alone honestly discussing the realities of mental illness. The truth is that it’s hard to live with mental illnesses when the media, whether in farcical current affairs efforts or fictionalised crime shows, tells us that ‘mental illness’ is shorthand for ‘violent predators out to get us all’.

In the show Changing Minds, Dr Mark Cross did away with the exaggerated and sensationalist ideas to try and get to the heart of what life with mental illness truly is. Changing Minds was one of the ABC’s most celebrated shows, a glimpse into the reality of life with mental illness in Australia.

What Changing Minds showed us was that there is a desperate need for easy to understand, up to date information about mental health issues that goes beyond the surface ‘see your doctor’ advice. We want to know how we can help and support the people we love more effectively. In response, Dr Cross teamed up with Dr Catherine Hanrahan to write Changing Minds: The Go-To Guide To Mental Health For You, Family and Friends.

Changing Minds isn’t about dazzling readers with the jargon of the mental health field, but about cutting through the language barrier and telling readers what’s what. It’s accessible, easy to read, and filled with anecdotes that help showcase the innate humanity of those struggling to live with mental illness.

And that’s where its strength lies. It’s hard not to empathise with such stories, and in that moment of empathy, the fear around illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar is lessened.

We need that.

It’s hard to offer a hand to someone when you’re scared they’ll try and rip it off your arm, and it’s hard to feel safe when a label you have no control over inherently changes the way you’re seen by the people around you.

Getting rid of those fears means getting to the point we can start actually working together and dealing with the issues.

I have to admit, when I saw that gender identity was covered in Changing Minds, I was nervous. It’s hard to discuss the psychological elements of sexual identity without handing ignorant bigots an unintentional chance to argue that anyone outside of their hetero-normative ‘ideal’ is a danger. Most of us are able to wrap our minds around the concept that mental illness does not generally equate to predatory behaviour, but sadly, not everyone has reached that level of basic understanding.

It makes it incredibly hard to talk honestly, and usefully, about the problems around issues with sexual identity. Drs Cross and Hanrahan have done a fantastic job at keeping the conversation on point: it’s not about attacking, say, the notion that someone can feel they were born in the wrong body. Instead, the focus is on the way the stress of such an experience can lead to mental health issues. The doctors are quite pointed in their approach, focusing on the need to challenge social stigma, rather than further victimising a community already overrepresented in mental health, trauma, and suicide statistics.

Changing Minds is a thought-provoking read. It’s a fantastic starting point for conversations about mental illness, and how we can offer support to those around us. Whether you want to better understand your own illness or the illness of someone you love, or you simply want to be a better ally, it’s a great starting point.

Changing Minds is published by ABC Books/Harper Collins and is available through the publisher’s website, and through the usual bookstores online and off.

Rating: 4 and a half stars

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