A disclaimer before I begin. I will be discussing mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, as well as suicide. If this is something you are sensitive to or triggered by, then this is a warning. There will be links at the bottom of this page to resources that can help support you. You are not alone.
As I mentioned in my last post, there are hundreds of writers paving the way in various fields and raising awareness about important topics.
One of which is Matt Haig, a best selling writer based in England. Matt writes in various styles as a journalist, children’s and non-fiction writer. Matt is active on his social media accounts working towards breaking the stigma around mental health.
Some of my favourite books by Matt are ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and ‘Thoughts on a Nervous Planet’. Both of these books are non-fiction and tackle the issues and stigma around mental health, as well as Matt recalling his own personal battles with depression and anxiety. Today I’m going to talk about ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. This is one of my favourite books and I urge anyone and everyone to read it, whether you are going through your own personal journey with mental health or are seeking ways to support a loved one, even for just general awareness! Mental health is becoming a pandemic in itself, breaking the stigma and shutting down stereotypes is extremely essential in tackling this issue. It is an enlightening and informative read.
Matt’s writing style is so engaging and his ability to explain such complex mental health struggles in such simplistic ways is truly inspiring. He uses various metaphors and explanations that allow people to really understand the way depression and anxiety can affect a persons life. Matt also includes scripted conversations with himself, portraying the inward struggle and turmoil he felt when his illness spoke to him.
Mental health is such a vast and complex topic, being able to explain its influence is something many struggle to put into words, but Matt Haig does this in a wonderful and effortless way. It allows people to really understand how mental illness can consume a person and the mental and physical symptoms that come with it.
But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.Albert Camus, A Happy Death
Matt discusses the invisibility and ability depression has to creep up on a person and consume them. Whoever that person may be; a billionaire, an alcoholic, a mother, a teenager, or a businesswoman. Depression can affect anyone and whilst some mental illness are related to past trauma, some may feel they do not have a reason to feel the way they do. This only leaves those people feeling guilty and confused for the way they are feeling. When those around them try to belittle their emotions or behaviour this guilt can intensify. Ending this stigma is SO important, Matt seeks to do this in a number of effective and informative ways within his book.
Another key statement Matt raises in his book is that mental illnesses impact and appear differently on everyone. This means that there is no set way to overcome it, get around it or deal with it. Understanding this is so important! Mental health is a journey of good and bad days. There is no one size fits all solution. There is trial and error, Matt retells how he began to cope with his mental illness within ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’.
The key is in accepting your thoughts, all of them, even the bad ones. Accept thoughts, but don’t become them. Understand, for instance, that having a sad thought, even having a continual succession of sad thoughts, is not the same as being a sad person. You can walk through a storm and feel the wind but you know you are not the wind.Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
In an effort to break the stigma around depression and mental health, Matt compares physical and mental health issues. He uses a variety of scenarios to explain this idea but as an example, you wouldn’t say to someone who had just broken their arm, ‘Oh, just get on with it, stop thinking about it!’ So why would you say to someone with depression, ‘Mind over matter, just get over it!’. Mental health issues are just as much issues as physical health issues. There is an obsession to separate the body and mind, when we should take time to care and nurture both. As much as we can have issues with our physical health, we can also have issues with out mental health. Matt pushes this idea throughout his book.
Matt fluctuates between retelling his own personal battles and experiences with depression and anxiety to more statistically informative facts surrounding mental illness. According to the World Health Organisation, “1 in 5 people will experience depression in their life”, and “A million people a year kill themselves. Between ten and twenty million people a year try to. Worldwide, men are over 3x more likely to kill themselves than women.” These figures clearly suggest to us that there is a mental health pandemic amongst us, which is why breaking the stigma is important now more than ever.
When you are depressed you feel alone, and that no one is going through quite what you are going through. You are so scared of appearing in any way mad you internalise everything, and you are so scared that people will alienate you further you clam up and don’t speak about it, which is a shame, as speaking about it helps.Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
These are just a few topics Matt touches on in his book ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’. He also explores the benefits and drawbacks surrounding medication, exercise and therapies. What coping mechanisms work for him, including some discussion on what he has learnt from Buddhist thought in controlling his anxiety.
Matt also discusses how the modern world has set us up for failure due to the feeling that we will always need more, stating that: “The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more?”
Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
Matt’s story is truly inspiring and a message to anyone who feels suicidal that things really will get better again. Matt found a way to live and enjoy life, something he never thought he would ever be able to do again. Mental health is an ongoing journey, doubts can fill your mind and depression can creep up on you, but learning to control those thoughts and to know that you are more than what your depression and anxiety is telling you, is the present theme throughout ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’.
If these topics interest you then I’d recommend you grab this book! It’s a great starting place for anyone wanting to grasp more of an understanding on depression and anxiety. Matt honestly and authentically captures the experiences of mental illness. After facing his own struggles he is not hesitant in stating that life is really hard. However, we can learn to see the beauty of it again within the simple moments, not everyday is promised to be amazing, but it will get better.
Links to mental health support
Reasons to Stay Alive: https://www.waterstones.com/book/reasons-to-stay-alive/matt-haig/9781782116820