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Sweet Distress


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About the Author

Gillian Bridge is a lecturer, researcher, therapist and brain expert. Northern born, Southern bred: cross referencing of influences and ideas comes naturally to her. Language is her medium, neuroscience her fascination, and she longs to understand what makes us humans human. She is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. From left-handed relatives to prisoner clients, no one escapes her fascinated delight in difference.


Sweet Distress grapples with one of the central questions of our age: when our lives are materially more comfortable than ever, why are we suffering an epidemic of mental ill health? In a quirky, accessible and occasionally grating style, Gillian Bridge attacks this issue with no holds barred. We are living in a time of extreme narcissism, she argues, railing against our self-obsession, self-indulgence and the agreat big emotional wankfest' of recent decades. Her provocative suggestion is that our growing obsession with mental health issues may not actually be helping us get better. In fact, this tidal wave of self-pity may actually be making the situation worse. Bridge's solution? Resilience. Developing the inner fortitude to absorb life's travails, but also being able to look beyond the self: strength through empathy. This book provides a practical and uncompromising assessment of the state we're in and how we might find our way to a tougher and less anguished place. I didn't always agree with Bridge, but given our ongoing epidemic of depression and anxiety, her ideas certainly merit consideration.Josh Glancy, The Sunday Times
Sweet Distress sets out to give us a roadmap for improving the mental health of our children a and leaves us wishing we'd read it before we gave birth or started teaching. A bit like my first reading of Carol Dweck's work, it leaves me wondering: is it too late to apply the book's message with a 14- or 16-year-old? Or has the damage already been done? Having set aside this negative and gloomy response, there is much to commend in Gillian Bridge's work. It helps that I had already read her previous book, The Significance Delusion, which is longer and more research-based and to which she makes frequent reference. Sweet Distress is lighter and rather an easier read: short, to the point and entertaining despite its serious subject matter. Ending each topic-focused chapter with a section on awhat to do next' makes it a great self-help book, although it isn't ourselves that we are being exhorted to help, but rather the young who are in our care, whether we are parents or teachers. Much of the advice makes a lot of sense, and I find it hard to disagree with Bridge's key thesis: we have bred a generation of navel-gazers who believe the world revolves around them because their parents, carers and teachers have, on the whole, led them to believe this. References to peer-reviewed and reputable research findings underpin our faith in what Bridge is saying. As adults, if we model desired behaviour with calm and balanced responses to our own problems, young people will understand how not to overreact. Bridge addresses something I have spoken about in several assemblies in recent years: the pressure in Western societies to feel happy is itself making us less happy. And helpfully she gives examples of ways in which we can reduce the stress involved in trying to be happy! Perhaps aa sense of perspective' is the strongest message I take from the book, because it is a message that I repeat regularly to parents, students and teachers alike. Not all sadness is mental illness; most of it is the normal swings of hormones or a completely natural response to a genuinely sad situation. Most of it does not need the intervention of professionals, just the common-sense support of parents and teachers. Encouraging a distracting activity instead of indulging in a long conversation about how they are feeling, is usually a better response for anyone, not just for children. You could be forgiven for thinking there's nothing new here. Maybe there isn't, but how many of us really believe the messages? Gillian presents them in a way which is persuasive and compelling and I hope this gives them more traction. We certainly need something to turn the tide on mental health messaging. The book is funny and witty (and even uses rude words!), so it is easy to pick up and follow. The best compliment I can pay Gillian is that, while reading it, I wanted to write in the margins, make notes to myself and stick them up around my office so that I can remember to do that thing the next time I'm in front of a class or giving an assembly.Heather Hanbury, Head Mistress, Lady Eleanor Holles School

I love this book. The honesty and transparency with which Gillian approaches the topic of mental health is very refreshing. It's well backed up by research, and her narrative about using amental capital' to explore and make meaning is very poignant. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Sweet Distress. aGilda Scarfe, CEO and founder, Positive-Ed

Writing in her hard-hitting, witty and conversational style, Gillian Bridge says it like it is in Sweet Distress a making it very clear that society's overemphasis on mental health is bad for us on so many levels. Controversial, but true. She makes a very strong case for the need for us to build personal resilience, explaining how this is the ultimate antidote to mental ill health and to the culture of us being encouraged to talk about our emotional suffering far too often. We are also given brilliant examples of those who exhibit true grit and who have the ability to roll with life's punches a a thing which Bridge believes we should all be able to do. She tears ferociously into the media, which has fuelled the current mental health frenzy, as well as the celebrities and universities, who she claims have been doing the same lamentable thing. She takes no prisoners. An outspoken critic of asafe spaces' and atrigger warnings', the author is an advocate of challenging experiences and of us moving out of our comfort zones. To sum it up, Bridge would rather we tell our child that aGrandma is dead' than ashe has gone on holiday'. She does not mince her words, and backs up her opinions with references to scientific research to pre-empt the naysayers who will inevitably hate this excellent, much-needed book. And when it comes to our current obsession with anxiety, which Bridge explores extensively, she is refreshingly scathing about the whole business. Instead of dwelling on our mental ill health, she wants us to be mentally and physically strong. Sweet Distress shows us how to achieve that end. Importantly, the author doesn't simply criticise the current culture around mental health and how we make it worse by focusing on it a she also provides us with practical, evidence-based solutions to help us pursue a happier, healthier life. This enjoyable, pacey masterpiece needs to be read by everyone, and we must all act upon its wisdom.Mike Fairclough, Head Teacher, West Rise Junior School, and author of Playing with Fire: Embracing risk and danger in schools

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