Book Reviews

Book Review: Heads Up

Book cover: Heads Up by Melanie Siebert

Heads Up: Changing Minds on Mental Health by Melanie Siebert is an illustrated book about mental that’s aimed at a teen audience. The author is a youth and family counsellor from my corner of Canada.

The book considers different ways of looking at what mental illness is and how it happens, including biological factors, trauma, intergenerational trauma, psychosocial stressors. There are easy to understand explanations of what’s going on the brain, the body-brain connection, the fight-flight-freeze response, and the impact of adverse childhood experiences. There’s a good balance of normalizing without minimizing.

The book features a number of people who’ve experienced various illnesses, including psychotic illnesses. One story was of a man who had a pop music career, became psychotic, and went to jail for uttering death threats; it wasn’t until later he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. There were also stories from Indigenous people.

While things started off well, the book took a biased turn about a third of the way in. In the first chapter, the author took what seemed to be a balanced position on medications, saying they. can help with symptoms, but they don’t work for everyone. Then things started to venture into different territory. For example:

Many critics warn that pharmaceutical companies are making fat profits on psychiatric medications. Research suggests that things like exercise, meditation, yoga and different forms of counseling can often be just as effective as medications, if not more so. That said, medications can provide relief from debilitating symptoms and medications can help some people have enough energy, motivation and calmness so they can make it to appointments and engage in healthy activities, kickstarting wellness.

The author went on to say that “psychiatry has promoted some of the most controversial practices in modern medicine,” and gave as examples lobotomies, eugenics, and ECT. Really, now? There is more than enough stigma around ECT without a counsellor lumping it in with lobotomies and eugenics, and she certainly doesn’t need to be passing her bias on to teens (and I say that as someone who has been treated multiple times with ECT, with pros clearly outweighing cons).

The nonsense continues:

The patient and the mental health professionals often have very different social statuses. People who are professionals have usually had a lot of advantages—like money, a safe home, healthy food, a good education—throughout their life and may have trouble relating to people who have grown up with the odds stacked against them.

I’m not sure if the author has been hiding under a rock or simply hasn’t ever had a conversation with any of her colleagues, but that seems like such an ignorant thing to suggest, and it does a tremendous disservice to the wounded healers who actually have been to hell and back. I’m not seeing how this is supposed to be a good message to send to youth; if anything, it sends the message that the people who they’re supposed to see for help are sitting so high on the horse of assumed privilege that they’re in a completely different reality. And sure, in some cases they very much are, but that kind of generalization really isn’t helpful.

There’s a three-paragraph blurb about involuntary committal, but it seemed oddly out of place, as nothing else was said about what treatment in hospital might look like. Without any sort of context, that seemed like just another anti-psychiatry dig.

As a positive, the book does encourage help-seeking. There was good in this book, but a book for youth probably shouldn’t be a place for the author’s anti-psychiatry bias. Because really, who does it help? The kids? I don’t think so. It’s a shame, because a book that could have been really good isn’t really that suitable for its intended audience.

Heads Up is available on Amazon.

You can find my other book reviews here.

Book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle, 2nd ed., by Ashely L. Peterson

Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic look at the different potential pieces that might fit into your unique depression puzzle. The revised and expanded 2nd edition is now available on Amazon.

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: Heads Up”

  1. Oh my!! This book sounds like it’s loaded with opinions that aren’t helpful or accurate. Ouch!!

    Since it’s written for teenagers, it reminded me of “The Young Person’s Guide to Depression” by Dr. Frasier Crane.

    I love the concept of writing about mental illness for teenagers!!

  2. Whenever I read a strong opinion in a book like that, or even in a comment, by a professional, it makes me think they are using their words to sell something else that they offer. I tried to never do that in my books, available on Amazon and through my website, because it’s just tacky.

  3. What difficult topics and no one fits all solutions. Im my own case I have never found a solution hard as I have tried. The honest truth is that we do not undertsand the causes if mental illness in sufficient depth and we do not have any “cures”. Only bandages and sticking plaster.

  4. Thanks for your review of Heads Up. It sounds like the author’s bias is potentially harmful or in the least – not helpful – as far as educating teens about mental health. It’s unfortunate, the rest of book seems like a good idea. Teens need a way to frame and understand better this very complex issue especially if they are personally struggling or the family/friend of someone who struggles with MH issues. There are so many who need that care and understanding.

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