Book Review: Stand By Me, by John Kirwan, with Elliot Bell, Kirsty Louden-Bell and Margie Thomson

Available in bookstores nationwide.

John Kirwan is a former All-Black and coach of the Italian and Japanese national rugby cv_stand_by_meteams and is now the Head Coach of the Auckland-based Super Rugby franchise the Blues. John Kirwan at the age of 22 years of age suffered from depression, and as a result of his journey, is an advocate for depression awareness in New Zealand, fronting a high profile television campaign. He is also author of the bestselling book, All Blacks Don’t Cry, in 2010. Dr Elliot Bell and Kirsty Louden-Bell are both registered clinical psychologists. They live in Wellington and have 3 children. Margie Thomson also co-wrote All Blacks Don’t Cry

John Kirwan is a dad and scared. Scared of the world his teenagers are in, and scared of the situations they will probably find themselves in. He has written this book in conjunction with others, to help parents and caregivers to understand and to recognise symptoms of depression in their teenage children.

pp_john_kirwanThe world we live in today is certainly a different than the one my children grew up in. I don’t envy parents of today’s generation. Social media and easy access to alcohol and drugs has changed the way we should be preparing and teaching our teenagers the skills to survive.

Social media allows bullies to target innocent victims 24/7. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of mental illness and youth suicide in the world. As well as cultural upbringing, alcohol and drugs can play an important part in being diagnosed with a mental illness. A New Zealand study has found that by the age of 21 nearly 80% of young people had used cannabis on at least one occasion and 10% had become heavy users. Alcohol and cannabis affect the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression.

Stand by Me is a book that I wished I’d had when I was a mother of teenagers. It talks openly about depression, how to seek help and how to cope as parents. The first port of call should always be your family general practitioner. This book is not designed to take over and diagnose whether or not your teenager is suffering from depression. There may be another reason all together why they may be suffering from depression – a physical illness.

This book is laid out in sections; from understanding the adolescent world; getting help; the unsafe world, and wellness every day. At the end of the chapters is a summary of the main points made, which I thought was a very useful tool for parents/caregivers.

Not all teenagers in families are going to suffer from depression, but knowing what the symptoms are, and getting help early can help. Communication and connecting with your teens within a family is also an important starting point.

Teenagers and parents of children with depression have contributed to this book, making it a very “real” source of information. The contributions of the psychologists Dr Elliot Bell and Kirsty Louden-Bell are also essential. One very good piece of advice from Kirsty is, “Label the illness, not the person”.

At the back of the book is a list of organisations that parents/caregivers/teens can contact for help with depression. Depression within a family can feel as though you are the only one going through it, but the reality is, you’re not.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Stand by Me: Helping your teen through tough times 
by John Kirwan, with Elliot Bell, Kirsty Louden-Bell, and Margie Thomson
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143570639