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Making Sense of Mental Health, by Emma Farrell

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' ... an intelligent, compassionate way to approach psychological distress and to move beyond it.' Professor Brendan Kelly

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‘Emma’s ... capacity to create a coherent and compassionate alliance between knowledge and emotional intelligence has made her stand out.... A very important player in this space and we need to listen to her.’ – Niall ‘Bressie’ Breslin, musician, mental health activist and co-founder of A Lust for Life

Mental health difficulties bring us face to face with our vulnerability as human beings, and after two years of struggling with Covid-19 concerns about mental health worldwide have never been higher.

What is often missing from these discussions is the most valuable resource of all – the personal accounts of those with lived experience of mental health difficulties. Making Sense of Mental Health is centred on hours of in-depth interviews with adults coping with mental health issues. The author follows their journeys from the origin of their distress to their lowest moments to eventual recovery and a sense of moving on. These lived experiences show how in times of crisis people can move forward amidst the chaos, vulnerability and uncertainty of mental health problems.

There are no quick fixes or miracle cures to serious mental health issues. This book shows that ‘what works’ is whatever helps an individual make sense of what is happening to them. Mental health difficulties can best be treated by listening carefully to the stories of those who have lived through them, and then as a society finding a way to ascribe meaning to the complex reality of mental health.

Further Praise for Making Sense of Mental Health

‘We can look at the experiences we call mental health difficulties through the lens of science, and through personal stories. The first has traditionally dominated, and left little space for the second. In this thoughtful book, Emma Farrell gives space for people’s own narratives, and in doing so, enriches our understanding of the complex ways we make sense of our distress.’ Dr Lucy Johnstone, Consultant Clinical Psychologist

Making Sense of Mental Health delivers exactly what it promises – an intelligent, compassionate way to approach psychological distress and to move beyond it. We learn from each other, and, in this book, Emma Farrell explores the wisdom of lived experience of mental health problems and how to navigate them.’ Professor Brendan Kelly, Professor of Psychiatry, Trinity College Dublin

‘This is a beautifully written, conceived and argued book, demonstrating what we can learn about the nature and meaning of mental health and suffering if we simply take time to listen to those with lived experience. I can’t recommend it highly enough.’ Dr James Davies, anthropologist, psychotherapist, author of The Importance of Suffering: The Value and Meaning of Emotional Discontent

’Making Sense of Mental Health makes an important contribution to the emerging scholarship on exploring mental distress through the lenses of lived experience. Through listening to stories of people who experience mental distress, Farrell shows that the prevailing medical model, or indeed any model, cannot capture the diversity and complexity of narrative wreckage and rebuilding that is at the core of lived experience. If the mental health system was designed using the lenses of lived experience it would be much more responsive, respectful, holistic and flexible than the narrow, reductionist system we have inherited.’ Mary O’Hagan, Executive Director, Lived Experience, Mental Health and Wellbeing Division, Department of Health, Victoria.

‘In this book, Dr. Farrell does something brave, beautiful and remarkable – she trusts people. She trusts people to tell their stories then she gets out of the way and let’s their words do the talking. This is an intricate journey into the most worthwhile method for exploring human distress – through peoples’ stories. The richness is engaging, the juxtapositions are challenging and the understandings developed are powerful. This adds to the literature base in such meaningful ways and is a great read for anyone interested in how human beings traverse emotional distress.' Dr Cian Aherne, Clinical Manager-Clinical Psychologist, Jigsaw, The National Centre for Youth Mental Health

‘This book could not be more timely, or more urgent. Farrell masterfully distils complex theories and philosophies to present a compelling argument for the value of lived experience – the power of the student’s own voice, and the necessity of fully hearing it – in all higher education communities and in every mental health intervention. Everyone who has an interest in student wellbeing should read this.’ Ralph Armstrong-Astley, S2S Coordinator, Trinity College Dublin Student Counselling Service

‘It is often difficult to make sense of mental health with so many ill-informed myths surrounding this area. Emma Farrell’s book gives us all the opportunity to look at mental health afresh through the perspectives of people affected by mental health difficulties. Emma critiques the medically dominant perspective that has influenced our thinking about mental health difficulties and challenges us to hear and respond to the experiences of the young people most affected. Fully engaging with the lived experiences of these young people will radically alter our perspectives on mental health difficulties and enable more insightful approaches to emerge.’ Professor Michael Shevlin Trinity College Dublin

About the Author

Dr Emma Farrell is a Senior Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and Chartered Psychologist at University College Dublin. A founding member of Headstrong (now Jigsaw) The National Centre for Youth Mental Health, she was also a member of the National Taskforce for Youth Mental Health and was the recipient of Gaisce, The President’s Award Gold Medal. She has written widely for The Irish Times and other print media.

More Information
Author Farrell, Emma
Print Format Paperback
ISBN-13 9781739789213
Illustrations 3 diagrams
Date of Publication September 20, 2022
Number of Pages 270
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