“If climate change or capitalism doesn’t cause the apocalypse first, it might very well be heralded by the collective loss of our minds,” Natasha Devon states in the introduction to ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental’. “This book is therefore my attempt to save the world. No pressure then…”
This ‘A-Z of Mental Health (Anxiety to Zero F*cks Given)’ is a combination of searingly honest autobiography, and well researched passages of hard (and important) facts. Together, they create an overall look at the landscape of mental health, from the impact of government (‘N is for… Number 10 Downing Street’) to the inner workings of your mind (‘B is for… Brain’).
Each chapter also contains suggestions for further reading or resources, and a summary of each topic with advice on dealing with various elements of your mental health. This blend of personal anecdotes, statistics and analysis, and a rounding-up of the topic makes the writing both accessible and insightful, with frequent moments of learning something new (and seeing your own mental health in a new light).
While you definitely feel that some of the topics are just the tip of the iceberg, Devon makes sure to hit critical clarifications where needed. For example, in the chapter that discusses the impact exercise can have on your mental health and Devon’s own experience learning to love running (‘E is for… Endorphins’), she makes sure to acknowledge how suffering from mental health issues means that some days just getting out of bed is too overwhelming a task. As someone who once spent since months half-begging her GP for more help for my severe depression (a topic touched on in ‘G is for… GP’ also), just to be told to ‘exercise’, this caveat was definitely appreciated.
It is also pleasing, especially as a bisexual woman with mental health issues, to find that an entire chapter had been dedicated to the link between sexuality and mental health (‘Q is for… Queer’). It acknowledges not just that LGBTQ+ people are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, but that it is a cis/heteronormative society’s exclusion and ‘othering’ of queer people that is largely to blame. This chapter not only includes advice and support for those who are LGBTQ+, but also advice to allocishet people on how to be good allies.
I would say that this book is very aptly named a ‘Beginner’s Guide’ – due to the nature of it covering an alphabet of mental health phenomena, and without turning into something you need a small wheelbarrow to cart around with you, each expansive topic can only be delved into so far. Devon covers a lot of ground in chunks that are easily digestible, but it does mean that some topics leave some avenues unexplored – ‘D is for… Drugs’, for example, barely touches the surface of the stigma and issues surrounding mental health medication, given that everyone from Prince Harry to the woman over the road seems to have an opinion on the subject.
However, as a beginner’s guide, you can take these overviews of each topic and use them as a jumping off point for your own research. You get enough insightful information to spark your curiosity, and while you may not feel you need to go off and look further into all 26 topics, there will certainly be a few that inspire you to delve deeper.
‘A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental’ would make a wondering starting point for teaching the importance and impact of mental health, both in schools and later in life. By breaking down such a variety of mental health topics, many of which can be overwhelming to try and get to grips with, Devon has provided an invaluable tool with which to start to understand not just your own mental health, but the mental health of those around you. An interesting, insightful and important read.
Natasha Devon has not only given us ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental’, but is also campaigning to make it compulsory to have a mental health first aider at work. You can sign the #wheresyourheadat petition below!