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Book of David, a call to new mental health

Book of David, A Manifesto for the Revolution in Mental Healthcare -
Michael Benjamin, M.D.

The Book of David is a peculiar beast. It offers an initial overview on the workings and creation of personalities, psychological issues, and the use of medication to deal with them; a short foray into autobiography; a proposal for new, both personal and institutional, approaches to mental healthcare. They all have one thing in common, however: the search for happiness. That Golden Age which, if skipped, will make us unwell; which, although always imperfect, therapy attempts to recreate.

The multiple sides to this book make it difficult to classify; therefore, to evaluate. Not quite self-help, not exactly academia, the reader is nevertheless guided to introspection, as well as to intellectual curiosity. Whether it is on the intricacies of Automated Everything, the characteristics of narcissism, or the stories of past cases, it is difficult to avoid comparing oneself, and those we know, against the information given.

That is, clearly, part of the aim behind this book – quite explicitly stated, in fact. Dr Benjamin, a retired psychiatrist, wants to promote a more active preventative mental health regime on the part of the public at large. He challenges standard approaches, standard passivity, and standard legalised mediocrity in mental care. He is outspoken in his disapproval of the current systems, so he has created an alternative, internet based, project to undertake initial and group supports. The book is both an entity in itself and, in the last section, a vehicle to promote this new approach (for more information, please visit www.myselfhealth.org/bod )

Who would enjoy this

This is a peculiar question, as this book is maybe less about ‘who would enjoy it’ but, ‘who would benefit from reading it’. The answer, as planned by the author, is ‘everyone’. That said, people with an initial interest in psychology, psychiatry, and unafraid of actual, factual information on these subjects would relish it more.

Also, I would recommend Book of David to those with loved ones under psychiatric care. Gaining a simple, clear understanding of the basic ‘whys and hows’, will both help them help themselves, support the patient, and maintain as healthy a relationship as possible.

Who should give it a pass

Since I have stated the implied need for everyone to get involved in reading this volume, it makes no sense to suggest someone ignore this book. Nevertheless, some readers may have a hard time dealing with the introspection elicited, either because it raises issues, or because they clash with those they are already dealing with. In that case, professional support may be required – I am not medically trained, thus here’s my disclaimer.

In any case, it will be a difficult read for anyone not ready for the premises it supports (check the site and summary). Similarly, the more academic sections can prove challenging to some readers – not unsurmountable, but demanding.

Conclusions and suggestions

‘[P]ersonality’, Dr Benjamin tells us, ‘is the “me that I know.” It is myself as I accept myself.’ The tricky part, it transpires, is how to get to the know part, so we can treat our personalities, and their disorders.

Through Book of David, Dr Benjamin exposes the reader to the main types of mental issues such as psychopathy, PTSD, or narcissism. He offers us examples of others who have been there, and by contrast we may understand that we are probably not in as bad a shape as we thought. The road to a new Golden Age of happiness, of acceptance, is neither unattainable nor perfect. More than anything, in any case, it is paved on self-work, not on medication.

I will admit, reading this book has been harder than I expected. The subject matter was very attractive to me, as was the laid-back, memoir voice it uses. Still, I too have my own issues to deal with, and found myself stopping often to go over my life, and those of the people around me. At times, it made me waver. I had to make a concerted effort to keep my reviewer hat on, in order to write this post. I apologise to all of you for the ensuing delay.

I like a challenge, I love learning, and I enjoy the possibilities of social change. Book of David offers all three. It hides a heavy load under the deceptive guise of a ‘chat’. Sadly, this oxymoron does not go unnoticed, unbalancing the text from time to time. Fair call, I have seen this succeed only of very numbered occasions. It makes the last section of the book, the one dedicated to guiding the readership to self-manage through the use of the new online system, disjointed, exposed bare and slightly forceful. Otherwise, this is the kind of book I would recommend to friends and family.

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