In an age when depression and other mental health issues are finally being treated with the respect and solemnity they deserve, Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig is one of the most important books in circulation.
It opens in the midst of Haig’s own depression, at a point when he can see no future, where everything ahead of him seems bleak and empty. It explores his own experiences with depression and anxiety, from his darkest, lowest moments, when suicide seemed only a few paces away, through all the ways he has learned to cope in the years since.
Haig is open about his intention to destigmatise depression, anxiety and mental illness in this book. Through sharing his own experiences, he hopes to offer comfort and hope to those going through similar anguish.
Haig’s fictional work is well known for its frank exploration of the human condition and this book takes that insight to a much more personal level.
He considers society’s attitude to depression as both someone who has experienced it severely and as a finely talented observer of people.
Every so often, the book takes a break from Haig’s personal story to look at it from the outside. He notes statistics about depression that are interesting to know, even if they mean nothing to you while depression is on top of you. He looks at the way that mental illness impacts the world in general and takes into account the latest scientific understanding of what depression is and how it occurs, considering many schools of thought about how it can be best managed.
This blunt and unemotional account of depression is comforting in its own way. It acknowledges the hard work that is going into helping people through it and forces any reader who doesn’t understand it to realise just how serious it is.
This combination of his own experience and objectively studied and peer reviewed conclusions allows Haig to draw a line between what is true, what is a rumour and what is a hopeless platitude.
He shows a great understanding that his experiences will differ vastly from those of others afflicted by the same issues and is careful to make it clear that the things that worked – or did not work – in helping him to manage his depression may not be applicable to every case.
Still, he writes so honestly and beautifully about isolation that it makes every lonely person feel a tiny bit less so, because they know that someone understands them.
It offers sage, honest and above all good advice to anyone who needs someone to point them in the direction of the light at the end of the tunnel. It is sympathetic and personal and never complicated.
For all the trouble that mental illness causes, Haig manages to convey it all simply and effectively. It is not a long book and can easily be consumed in one relatively short sitting. It is certainly engrossing enough. But it contains so much information in it that you come out the other end feeling like you’ve absorbed an entire mental health library.
This is a wonderful book to read if you are struggling – or ever have struggled – with your own mental illness. It is great if you want to know more about what someone you care about might be going through. It is even an excellent choice of material if you have no idea what mental illness can do to someone and want to know what all the fuss is about.
It is comprehensive and well written, with a very human story at its core.
This book is about depression. It goes into excruciating detail about the horrible things that depression can do to a human being, the pain it can cause to both them and those around them, the way it can stunt and even end lives.
But, importantly, it is not depressing.
It is comforting, interesting and even uplifting, despite all the awful times doubt and anxiety are rampant and suicide seems a comfort.
Author Bio – Kirstie Summers is journalist whose day job takes her to all the most interesting places and events in South London. She also freelances for a number of sites and publications, from gaming and literature reviews to creative fiction. She lives in London and spends as much of her free time as possible making the most of being in such a diverse city. She keeps one day a week to herself to swim, relax and keep the stress of the world at bay.