Review: Stand By Me by Sir John Kirwan

Reviewed by Chris Mirams
Review: Stand By Me by Sir John Kirwan

‘I’m a Dad and I’m scared.’

It’s how Sir John Kirwan starts Stand By Me, a sentence and situation that many parents of teenagers will instantly relate to. It’s a sentence that also sums up the follow up to Sir John’s 2010 best-selling All Blacks Don’t Cry. Plain simple language with the complexity of anxiety and depression broken down succinctly.

Stand By Me is a guide for any parent who suspects a child or teenager may have or be showing signs of anxiety or depression. Sir John mostly plays the role of parent asking and posing questions with the advice, answers and insights provided by Wellington based husband and wife psychologists, Dr Elliot Bell and Kirsty Louden-Bell. This is mixed with verbatim’s from parents and children who have been through the battle adding a real life aspect to the book.  

SEE ALSO: 'Stand By Me' co-author and clinical psychologist Kirsty Louden-Bell says "Label the illness, not the person"

JK Book Cover

The unsung hero is writer Margie Thomson whose ability to break the tricky topic into layman’s language, balancing all of the components to keep the pace and flow of the book humming while delivering valuable information is a true and under-rated skill.

There are several clear messages in the book. Thanks in large part to Sir John’s work over the last decade New Zealanders have started to talk more openly about depression. But it still carries a lot of stigma and the voices that highlight that most are those of the parents and children whose stories are sprinkled throughout the book.

Teenager Sophia says “It’s like a title you’re given … people think that depression is something you can control. It’s like ‘snap out of it’. Christie is the mother of a teenage sufferer and says we still have a way to go to de-stigmatise depression adding ‘when it happens to us, we mustn’t feel that we’re weak or to blame.’

What’s delivered is a rich resource to draw on. It includes a roadmap of warning signs, advice on how to broach the subject with your teen, a variety of tips such as how and what to look for in choosing a professional for help, questions to ask that professional, explanations of the treatments available, how to approach medication, the role of the parent and more.

Out of it all, any parent or teenager who reads the book has a good chance of understanding that they are not alone. That depression is an illness that can be treated. That there are a variety of ways to get help and be helped.

As the first book did, Stand By Me is strong on the role hope has to play. The importance of finding hope for parents and teenagers struggling with depression, where to find it, how to hang onto it and ways to nurture it. And if hope is absent, the message is clear, keep trying for it, keep looking for it.

The teenager of today can be a tough customer for many parents to reach, understand and relate to. Social media, technology and the immediacy of everything are part of their daily life although often foreign concepts to many parents. The task of connecting and then caring and conveying that to a teenager with depression or anxiety issues is an awfully tough assignment.

The team behind Stand By Me has successfully delivered practical help, comfort and hope for parents in that situation. Bravo to all who made Stand By Me possible.

Penguin RRP$40 

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