What's on Donate

Stand by me - Book Review

Stand by me: Helping your teen through tough times

Kirwan, J. (2014). Penguin.

Sir John Kirwan’s latest book is a great addition to his first, and one I will add to my bookshelf as a quick “hands on” reference to help with my teenage stepson. It’s not that my stepson is, as far as I know, experiencing mental illness, but he’s 14 and the grunting has started – so how do I really know?

And that’s the beauty of Stand By Me – it isn’t just for parents who have children in the throes of mental distress, it’s relevant and extremely helpful for all parents wanting to do a better job bringing up and listening to their teens.

It digs down into the ways and reasons that teenagers hide their feelings and what you can do to gently bring them out of themselves and support them unconditionally when they tell you something you may not want to hear.

The book is factual in that it has statistics and best practice for identifying and managing mental illness in youth, practical in that it has so many wonderful and generous comments from teens and their parents about how to do, and how not to do, things, and compassionate with JK’s warmth and frankness about his own mental health and natural everyday concerns for his three teens.

Like All Blacks Don’t Cry, this new book is a page turner. The chapters are short and to the point, which makes for easy digestion, and usually hold at least one pearl of wisdom.

My favourite is John’s idea that anxiety, or fear, should be cuddled, rather than run away from or hidden. “The last thing that ugly creature wants is a cuddle. So grab hold of it and give it a cuddle – this breaks it down a bit and take the fear out of it,” JK says (page 51). This makes me giggle, and I’ll remember it next time I need to exercise some self-management.

Chapters include topics such as teen anxiety and depression, the teenage brain, getting out of it, self-harm, eating disorders and suicide, warning signs – when to worry, how involved should parents be, loving the real child, hope, resilience (excellent) and wellbeing.

Advice and information from psychologists Elliot Bell and Kirsty Louden-Bell are necessary I think to give the book more professional weight than just having JK’s voice alone, as entertaining and valuable as that may be.

The occasional comments here and there from psychiatrist Lyndy Matthews are refreshingly down to earth and strategically placed by freelance writer Margie Thomson, who, in John’s own words, did much of the heavy lifting in the writing of Stand by Me. Lyndy’s description of how nerve cells affected by depression are like a tree in winter (page 114) is a beautiful and easily understood concept.

The only annoyances the book held for me were that Elliot’s information tended toward the impenetrable (what is an objective circumstance, for instance?) and could certainly have been more user friendly; the summaries at the end of each chapter were often unwieldy and difficult to read: grey text in grey boxes. And I would have liked a photograph of the psychologists, and Lyndy, to relate better to who had been talking to me.

Otherwise, bravo, an awesome resource for Kiwi parents and caregivers bringing up teens with or without experience of mental illness.

Reviewed by Susie Hill, Website Consultant with the Mental Health Foundation

Rāhina / Monday

Reconnect with yourself

Connecting with yourself is a skill. To start the week, begin by taking a moment to check in with yourself, acknowledge how you’re feeling and how the last few years of turbulence affected you and your connection with others and the world around you. This is a good time to think about the people you have lost contact with who you might want to reach out to, or the special places you haven’t visited in a while, and set some whāinga/goals for the week ahead.

At the end of the week, you can reflect on how you felt at the start and how reconnecting with the people and places that are special to you has lifted you up.

A few ideas for reconnecting with yourself:

Rātū/ Tuesday

Reconnect with a friend or loved one

We know life can get busy, but feeling connected to the people that are important to us can make a big difference to our mental health. Connection brings purpose and belonging to our lives and makes us feel happier and more secure. Today is about reconnecting with the people in our lives – it could be someone special who you have lost touch with or just wish you caught up with more often.

A few ideas for reconnecting with a friend or loved one:

Rāapa / Wednesday

Reconnect with a special place

The places and spaces we spend our time in have a huge impact on how we feel. Most of us have places we can go that calm, inspire or uplift us. Today, make time to go to a place that is special to you and take notice of how you feel when you are there. For some of us, the special place that comes to mind might be out of reach - perhaps it’s overseas, or too far away to get to. Even if we can’t get there right now, there are ways that we can reconnect with the places that lift us up.

A few ideas for reconnecting with a special place:

Rāpare / Thursday

Reconnect with your community.

Today is about reconnecting with your hapori whānui/wider community. It’s the perfect time to sign up to be a volunteer or join a local community group, but it could also be as simple as making the effort to reconnect with the people you interact with every day. Today is all about savouring the little hononga/connections that make us human.

A few ideas for reconnecting with your community:

Rāmere / Friday

Reconnect with nature

To round out the week, we’re asking you to reconnect with the beautiful taonga that is te taiao/the natural environment. Studies show exposure to nature not only makes us feel better emotionally, it contributes to our physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. All the more reason to spend at least a small moment today outside - breathing in some fresh air and noticing the world around you.

A few ideas for reconnecting with nature: