Are You Really OK? – Stacey Dooley

Are you really OK? I don’t think there’d be too many people who could answer that question with a resounding yes after living through what the 2020’s have given us so far. Now, more than ever, we need to do whatever we can to look after our mental health. 

An international team of researchers published a report in October 2021 showing that globally there were estimated to be an extra 76 million cases of anxiety in 2020 than would have been expected if the pandemic hadn’t happened, and 53 million more cases of major depressive disorder. 

In this book, Stacey talks about depression, eating disorders, postnatal depression, postnatal psychosis, obsessive compulsive disorder, gambling addiction and psychosis. She also speaks to people who have experienced domestic abuse, as well as those in the LGBTQ+ community who have been discriminated against or abused because of who they are. Finally, Stacey explores how racism and poverty impact on mental health.

While there are statistics (and some confronting ones at that) and information about potential advances in the future for treating specific mental illnesses, where this book shines is the human element. Stacey interviewed young people living with diagnosed mental illnesses and gave them the opportunity to tell their stories. While she never claims to be an expert herself, Stacey spoke with professionals who treat mental illnesses, some of whom have lived experience. 

The insights you are able to get when people feel safe enough to speak candidly about their lives are always going to resonate more than facts and statistics that remove individual people from the narrative. Although I know people with many of the diagnoses covered in this book and have lived experience of others, I learned a lot. I was invested in the stories of the people who shared their story and expect to continue to wonder how they’re doing, particularly Kyle, whose experience with depression was just heart wrenching. 

None of us get through life unscathed. Sean, a psychiatrist Stacey spoke to, is helping to destigmatise mental illness. No one is immune to mental health issues, Sean says. 

‘But if enough wrong things happen that exceed someone’s ability to cope, no matter how privileged they are, they will get ill’ 

While that knowledge is somewhat terrifying, it’s also comforting because it removes blame from the person with the illness.

But is there hope? Absolutely. 

‘For everyone, no matter how awful the situation you are in, no matter how bad the mental illness or the mental disorder is, it can improve.’ 

Because Stacey’s approach is so down to earth and she’s so relatable, her documentaries and both of her books have a warmth to them, almost as though you’re seeing friends catching up and talking about some of their most difficult experiences. I’ll definitely be rereading this book.

Content warnings include addiction (alcohol, drug, gambling), bullying, child abuse, domestic abuse, eating disorders, homophobia, mental health, miscarriage, racism, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation and attempts (including the method used) and transphobia.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, BBC Books and Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We are not OK… 

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many remarkable people over the last decade of making documentaries – sometimes in incredibly hostile environments, where they’ve been really up against it – and I’ve seen the devastating effect that poverty, trauma, violence, abuse, stigma, stress, prejudice and discrimination can have on people’s mental health. It has always been the common thread.

Every week, 1 in 10 young people in the UK experiences symptoms of a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, and 1 in 5 have considered taking their own life at some point. In this book, Stacey Dooley opens up the conversation about mental health in young people, to challenge the stigma and stereotypes around it.

Working in collaboration with mental health experts and charities, Stacey talks to young people across the UK directly affected by mental health issues, and helps tell their stories responsibly, in order to shine a light on life on the mental health frontline and give a voice to young people throughout the UK who are living with mental health conditions across the spectrum. 

As well as hearing about their experiences directly, Stacey speaks to medical experts, counsellors, campaigners and health practitioners who can give detailed insights into the conditions profiled and explore the environmental factors that play a part – including poverty, addiction, identity, pressures of social media and the impact of Covid-19.

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