REVIEW: Joanna Cannon and Nathan Filer, Breaking and Mending

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13 October

Gala Theatre Screen 1

Hannah Hodgson

Cannon and Filer kicked off the session by reading from their respective books. As a medically complex individual I found this session to be enlightening. It’s easy to lose sight as a patient, of the toll providing care takes on doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. While my condition involves my physical health, this session centred around the experience of mental health care professionals.

I read both of these books before I knew I would be reviewing this event. They are some of the most honest and person-centred non-fiction I have ever read. The humanisation of the professionals and ‘service users’ or patients detailed, is essential. With depictions of people with mental illnesses as ‘dangerous’ frequently blown around in the media, these books serve as balance – the truth of professionals for whom these individuals are the every day.

We as a society are buying the numerous books authored by doctors at the moment because we want to know the human behind our General Practitioner. Doctors I gel with tend to offer something of themselves, share a joke or want to know about my life outside of their office. Cannon felt that from a doctor’s perspective there needs to be some distance between doctor and patient – you need to be able to leave people in the hospital when you go home. She said that a huge component of her mental health issues stemmed from her inability to stop thinking of the families and lives of her patients, many of whom went on to have bad prognosis’.

Another issue discussed was our perception of mental illnesses as a society, and how the ways we use language can be political. Filer believes saying someone ‘has anxiety’ serves the interests of politicians rather than that individual and that instead we should say someone ‘feels anxious’. Filer argues that if we say the former, we make it sound as though it is an individual issue rather than one of policy. He used the example of a millennial unable to afford rent on a mouldy bedsit in London to demonstrate his point. The issue is systemic – unaffordable housing – and putting the mental illness on the individual shifts the blame away from government.

There is so much more I could have said about this event. The Q and A was as heartening (and disheartening) as the event itself. I gathered that my fellow audience members felt the importance of these books as strongly as I did.

This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.