Hope Street Cards Book Club - April

Isn’t it fascinating how your idols change over time? When I was really young, I was obsessed with Kermit the Frog. I still have the remnants of this obsession around my home today. And then as a pre-pubescent there was the great hunk of spunk, Dylan McKay. And yes, a 1.5 metre sultry 90210 image of him currently lives behind my bedroom door.

Some might argue that my idol obsessions haven’t actually changed at all, but I can definitely say that the scope from which I collect idols these days has definitely widened.

One of my newest idols is the co-author of this month’s Book Club book – Dr Mark Cross.

Unlike with Dylan, I haven’t begun this obsession because of his striking good looks (sorry Mark). Despite him being a balding, older South African gentleman with a lovely laugh. And I can’t quite remember why I fell so hard for Kermie back in the day. These days I like to think it’s because of his beautiful muppet qualities – compassion, team work, leadership and optimism – but it was probably just because he was a frog.

These days I am definitely becoming obsessed with other people’s minds. And their humanness.

Some of you, like me, might have first come across Mark on the tele as part of the series ‘Changing Minds’ which first aired on the ABC in October 2014 as part of ‘Mental As’, the network’s mental health week coverage. This 2-season documentary series follows patients in the Mental Health Unit of Campbelltown Hospital and in the homes of patients cared for by community mental health teams. It’s raw and emotional. Profound and funny. And in my opinion this series did a fabulous job in attempting to breakdown dangerous misunderstanding around mental illness (The show is also currently up on iview!). In this serious Dr Cross came across as a genuinely caring psychiatrist interested in the welfare of his patients, with a very smart brain.

So, with Dr Catherine Hanrahan, Dr Cross has now produced a book: Changing Minds: The go-to guide to mental health for you, family and friends.

The book covers all the main categories of mental illness – bipolar, anxiety, personality and eating disorders to depression, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia and suicide – with the focus being on what it means to have that particular illness and bust some of the myths which may surround it. Furthermore it offers clear, evidence-based practical help, how to access help and what treatments are available. AND in each chapter there is a section for loved ones as to how they might be able to assist in what can be a challenging time.

In the forward Cross gives this explanation for writing the book:

I don’t know about you, but I want to live in and bring my sons up in a society that cares for its people with mental illness, that deals with issues around mental illness in a compassionate, inclusive and open way and where we can learn from and include those with mental illness as being part of our normal everyday existence.

Amen to that.

I haven’t read the book cover to cover. But over the month, I’ve picked out chapters and read them fully or skim-read other sections. With that in mind, here’s my review:

The Good Things:

  • This is a very, very practical guide to mental health disorders for EVERYONE – patients/consumers, carers, families, teachers, friends and employers. There is not one person I would not recommend this book too. Given that 1 in 4 Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, if every household had a copy of this book on their shelf and could refer to it as needed, the world would be a better place.
  • This book is funny. There is humour everywhere. But as I’ve mentioned before, the author’s make a point not to laugh AT mental illness but With it.
  • It’s not a self-help book.
  • It is truly Australian. There is one WHOLE chapter on navigating the Australian mental health system. This is such valuable information for anyone new to mental health arena.
  • There are interesting historical facts, like this one:

There was a quaint law from the 1790s in New South Wales that said ‘the insance could not be transported along the King’s highway’ – leaving only waterways. As a consequence, all he older, and now closed, asylums in Sydney are located in beautiful sandstone buildings with review views.

  • There are loads of wonderful case studies from the author’s clinical practice. These are great in demonstrating the range and complexities involved in treating mental illness, but also to show that however you experience a mental illness, chances are your professional may have seen someone go through something similar. That is, the message is pretty clear – you’re not the only one dealing with this crappiness.
  • You can use it like a reference book. Sort of like I did. You don’t need to read it cover to cover to make sense of it. However, it’s written so superbly you may wish to. The language is personable and simple and clear and the narrative so very interesting and engaging.
  • It’s a guide. Throughout it, Dr Cross uses language that shows that he’s not the expert of his patients. There’s an acknowledgment that he’s there to facilitate the person getting back on track. Not telling them what to do, but working in collaboration. With them.
  • The chapter headings are awesome. They themselves are really good myth busters and provide so much information and knowledge. For example ‘(How to) Just get over it’ is the title for Depression chapter. ‘I’m going to die’ – Anxiety disorders. ‘What is ‘normal’ anyway?’ – Personality disorders. And my personal favourite ‘Not a coward’s way out’ – Suicide.
  • This is a superb stigma-busting book. And this is where we really see the passion of the authors . For example:

And don’t get me started on that stupid saying ‘sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me’. Whoever thought of that had no idea about depression and the way in which the most simple words and phrases can be interpreted by someone who is depressed. How something can play on the depressed mind to the point of obsessive distraction, ending with a negative interpretation pervading every thought and feeling.

Can you just feel the passion?

  • I got more insight into one of my new idols. And he’s wonderful. And honest. Exhibit A:
I despair over my patients with drug and alcohol issues. I admit I get frustrated and angry at times, when well-laid plans to stop their habit come to nothing and they end up in emergency again. I can honestly say though that I do not judge them and that I am disciplined about my frustration not robbing me of my compassion. I would for example never use words such as ‘junkie’ or ‘alkie’ and I encourage them not to think of themselves that way. These people are adrift, they are ill, and they need understanding and help.


The Less Good Things:

  • I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel here, because this is a very good book. However, it does only cover adult disorders. Disorders that affect children are not noted (e.g., ADHD and Autism), neither are disorders that specifically affect the older population (e.g., dementia). But both of this populations have specialised brands of psychiatry attached to them, so the authors are forgiven on that.

This book is very, very good. I recommend it to all. Read it. Recommend it on. Let's change minds.

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