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.

On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back – Stacey Dooley

I’ve followed Stacey’s career from fashion loving teen travelling to India through to the professional journalist she is today, watching and rewatching every documentary each time they’ve aired on television. When I first heard she was releasing a book I was so keen to get my hands on it ASAP. I read the blurb and immediately thought of DVD Special Features. I imagined Stacey’s book as a combination of Deleted Scenes and Director’s Commentary, but it was so much more.

What I love about Stacey’s work with social issues women face around the world is that she gives you information about emotionally loaded topics in a thoughtful and respectful way. You don’t just get to hear her opinion; you learn about people whose lives that issue directly effects as a victim, their family and friends, along with any officials in the area or perpetrators that are willing to be interviewed.

Stacey and her team focus on some locations and issues that I was vaguely familiar with and others that sadly I had practically no knowledge of. In this book Stacey delves into issues relating to prison, immigration, drugs, child abuse, femicide, high-end to low-end prostitution, trans prostitution, abortion, child sexualisation, murder, war and survival. Your heart will be broken and warmed by the womens’ stories. For women who have had to survive such horrendous circumstances in their past and oftentimes present as well, their courage and resilience are extraordinary and inspirational. It’s up to you as the reader to form your own opinions about what’s presented to you and whether that will change your mind or not, but you cannot walk away uninformed. I hope you also walk away with your empathy enlarged.

Whenever someone starts talking politics my brain goes into standby mode so I was really surprised that Stacey could explain political issues to me, including what Obama stood for versus Trump, and I not only heard her but I understood what she was saying. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll never understand American politics. However Stacey explained policies and the way people are affected by them in such a down to earth way that I knew what she was talking about and if she’d done nothing else in this book, she’d deserve a medal for that alone!

Having seen most of the documentaries that Stacey refers to in On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back I could picture the people and scenes she was referring to, as well as hearing her voice in my head as I read. I was enjoying reliving some of my favourite documentaries with additional information and insights, yet wondered how well this book would translate to readers who have been living under a TV-less rock and hadn’t seen any Stacey documentaries.

Then I came across a chapter featuring [Shock! Horror!] a documentary I had never seen before! In hindsight I’m pleased about that because not only do I have a documentary to watch in the very near future 😃 but it also gave me another perspective on this book. I found it didn’t matter that I didn’t have previous knowledge of this documentary. The writing sucked me in and in a way I felt like I was watching along as Stacey described what was happening. I understood the need for a documentary on that topic to be made in the first place, the experiences of the people interviewed, information about the political atmosphere at the time in that country and Stacey’s own view.

While watching the documentary prior to reading each chapter is certainly not a prerequisite it is nice to be able to put faces to names. If, like me, you find gaps in your documentary viewing experience I expect that you’ll come away with a viewing list to complement what you’ve read. While there are currently some of Stacey’s documentaries available for viewing on the BBC website I would love to see (if it doesn’t already exist) all of the documentaries mentioned in this book available for viewing at a central location.

I found I liked the same things about Stacey’s approach in her writing that I do when I watch her on television. She’s so down to earth. There’s at once a sweetness and strength to her manner. She knows what she believes but isn’t close minded when she hears opposing opinions; she’ll weigh them against her own to determine if what someone else thinks changes her mind or strengthens her own views. Whether she agrees or disagrees with someone she treats them with respect. She asks the questions you want the answers to but aren’t sure if anyone will have the guts to ask.

She gets to the heart of the issue and the people she’s interviewing. You can tell she has a genuine fondness for the girls she encounters and her friendliness appears to open people up to having real conversations with her about difficult and painful things. Scared or not, she gets on with it. As a viewer and now a reader there’s just something innately likeable and relatable about this woman and when you watch her documentaries it’s easy to think, ‘Yeah, I reckon Stacey and I could be mates if we ever met’.

While you may see the problems presented in this book and feel overwhelmed by their enormity, ultimately this book is a call to action. You are left to consider the power that you have to make a difference. To borrow some of Stacey’s words, what she’s doing in this book and her documentaries is raising awareness and presenting “what’s going on in the world so that people can make up their own minds about how best to fight back.”

Thank you so much to NetGalley, BBC Books and Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for the opportunity to read this book. I’m left feeling inspired!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Put yourself in their shoes.

In 2007, Stacey Dooley was a twenty-something working in fashion retail. She was selected to take part in the BBC series Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts which saw her live and work alongside Indian factory workers making clothes for the UK High Street. This sparked her series of hugely popular investigations, establishing her as one of BBC3’s most celebrated presenters.

Through the course of her documentary making, Stacey has covered a variety of topics, from sex trafficking in Cambodia, to Yazidi women fighting back in Syria. At the core of her reporting are incredible women in extraordinary and scarily ordinary circumstances – from sex workers in Russia, to victims of domestic violence in Honduras.

In her first book, On the Front Line with the Women Who Fight Back, Stacey draws on her encounters with these brave and wonderful women, using their experiences as a vehicle to explore issues at the centre of female experience. From gender equality and domestic violence, to sex trafficking and sexual identity, Stacey weaves these global strands together in an exploration of what it is to be women in the world today.