Book review: Mind your Head

Mind your head by Juno Dawson with advice from Dr Olivia Hewitt. Reviewed by Dr Elizabeth Kirkham.

Mind your head book cover

Date published: 2016

Paperback price: £6.55

Link to Hot Key Books

Reviewer: Dr Elizabeth Kirkham

Reviewer expertise: Researcher in mental health and psychology

What is the book about and who is it aimed at?

This book is about mental wellbeing and mental illness, with a focus on life as a teenager. It is aimed at young people – as to what age range that covers, I’d suggest its tone is aimed at early to mid-teens but it could also be useful for younger readers. Having said that, although the tone is aimed at this age group, much of its content is relevant to older people as well. It contains various quotes from people aged in their mid-teens to 30s.

A brief description of the book.

The book begins with an introduction to mental health, before moving on to discussion of the difficulties in (teenage) life. The author mentions that she used to be a teacher, and this comes across in her ability to address the realities of teenage life with understanding and clarity. At times this first section of the book felt a little unclear in whether it was talking about mental wellbeing or mental illness that needs treatment. Having said this, the distinction between mental wellbeing and mental illness is often unclear, and a highly categorical approach would in itself be unhelpful, so this isn’t necessarily a major problem. The second half of the book is more clearly focused on mental illness (as opposed to both mental wellbeing and illness), and primarily deals with one common mental illness per chapter (including anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia and addiction).

Is the content in line with best practice or research evidence?

On the whole this book was in line with best practice and evidence. I particularly liked the author repeatedly highlighting that the way people speak or think about mental illness is often incorrect – “OCD is not germ phobia; do be aware there is a clear difference between small d and BIG D depression”. She also included stories and quotes from people who lived with different mental health conditions, which was a good way to illustrate the topic.

There were one or two minor mistakes, for example the statement that autism “comes under mental illness”. I also found the content of one of the chapters (chapter 10) confusing – it was titled “Psycho” and subtitled “personality disorders”, but the chapter itself was mostly an A to Z of various disorders and conditions, some of which were not personality disorders (such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and autism spectrum disorder). It would have been clearer and more accurate to label this chapter as covering other mental health conditions that hadn’t been talked about previously (and to exclude autism spectrum disorder as this isn’t a mental health condition). I would also remove the heading “Psycho”, as although the context of the wider book shows it’s not intended to be stigmatising, it is nevertheless a word that’s used hurtfully in wider society.

Who would this book be helpful for?

My general impression was that this book would be helpful for teenagers who are finding things difficult, whether or not they are experiencing symptoms of mental illness. The book is a good introductory text which is generally supportive and understanding of the teenage experience, covering topics such as bullying and bereavement as well as mental illness. I think that teenagers with well-established mental health conditions could still benefit from the book but would also need additional literature that discusses their particular health condition(s) in more detail. Having said this, given that many people live with mental illness for a long time before recognising it, this book’s clear descriptions of multiple mental health conditions could work well in helping a young person to identify what it is they might be dealing with.

What is your final, overall opinion on the book?

Although not perfect, this book covers many of circumstances that make being a teenager hard work. It wouldn’t in itself be sufficient for a teenager living with mental illness, but it never pretends to be, and does a good job of helping readers identify additional support and encouraging them to make use of it.