Some of Millions: From Breakdown to Breakthrough, Edited by Jethro Bor. The Book Guild £9.99
Nearly half of adults believe they have had a mental health condition, but only a fifth of men and a third of women receive professional diagnoses. Mental distress is a collective experience, this accessible and compassionate book explains. But mental distress is both experienced and treated in individualised, and frequently isolating, ways. It is therefore vital to recognise the socioeconomic framework through which our inner lives develop, and why capitalist society marginalises those with mental health challenges. Some of Millions makes a valuable, vibrant contribution to this recognition. In an insightful foreword, Independent journalist Patrick Cockburn writes of his son’s severe psychosis and of discovering mental distress was “something people did not talk about openly” because of stigma and fear. His hope that this book will help people understand “the reality” is well-placed. The book’s beating heart lies in vibrant life-writings from individuals with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, psychosis and bipolar disorder.
A ‘self-help’ element is refreshing. The most powerful stories explore having to navigate society from the position of being in an oppressed group. Oppressive attitudes are frequently internalised. Rebecca’s breakdown originated in childhood trauma, but she had suppressed her feelings. “I protected myself from facing my demons.” A pervasive myth is that mental distress affects people who are not resilient enough to cope with life’s challenges. Charlotte opens her engaging story with: “As I have long considered myself a levelheaded person, to discover I was… with bipolar disease… came as a considerable shock.” Medication can be a temporary measure. Notwithstanding horrible side-effects and coercive or experimental prescribing, it can also be a lifelong option or necessity. Hospitalisation can be a welcome respite or frightening ordeal.
Striking poems, lyrics and artworks attest to the healing power of creativity. I loved Rosie’s poem-cycle on the loss of her mother, particularly the terse ‘Dinner’: “Dad keeping us from silence/We keeping him from solace.” There is a friendly, homemade feel to the book which has been produced by a company specialising in partnership publishing projects with authors. A helpful glossary at the back defines current terminology. In his trenchant antiausterity afterword, Jethro Bor proposes prevention education to normalise mental health awareness and care. Demanding parity with physical health and condemning NHS cuts, he rightly calls for better training and working conditions, and for military budgets to be “spent constructively helping people to survive and lead healthy lives”. Bor says stress, trauma, poverty and poor housing exacerbates mental ‘illness’ although he doesn’t identify society’s structure itself as damaging human health, nor unfortunately does he acknowledge racism, sexism or LGBTQ+ oppression. Acknowledging welfare attacks and radical resistance inspired by the Marxist social model would have helped.
The power that workers have to transform society is pivotal, as is the capitalist institution of the family wherein lie the roots of LGBTQ+ and women’s oppression, domestic abuse and developmental trauma. That said, the book makes for compelling reading and raises many questions deserving further exploration.