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Turning a personal memoir into an effective mental health resource

As the conversation around mental health begins to change, we speak to author Brent Williams who has used his personal experiences to shape a new memoir which is a valuable resource to support those affected by depression or anxiety.

“One of the strengths of this book is how it is opening conversations between people who have never discussed mental health before” says Brent Williams as he discusses his brand-new book, Out of the Woods, an illustrated memoir demonstrating his own personal struggles with depression. “Something about my personal journey has elicited an emotional response from people who are using it as an opportunity to speak about their own mental health issues.”

After years battling depression, New Zealand lawyer Brent has put his experiences into a new book which is challenging the way in which we view mental illnesses. The son of the late Sir Author Williams, one of New Zealand’s most prominent philanthropists, Brent has documented much of the physical abuse he suffered from his father within the book – a decision which he admits was “extremely difficult”. Originally planning to write a simple book about the realities of living with depression, Brent was encouraged to write about his father by his psychotherapist which enabled him to finally articulate his thoughts and feelings about the abuse he had suffered during his childhood.

The result is a beautifully illustrated memoir which accurately portrays the feelings and emotions of a person as they are caught in the grips of depression along with the lessons that he has learnt as he began his recovery. Unlike other texts, Brent’s story is told entirely via illustrations, something which was extremely important to Brent.

“When I was depressed, I couldn’t read anything as my brain couldn’t concentrate on the words. I wasn’t able to process information so when I started writing, I knew that this book needed to be able to help people when they are in that stage” says Brent. His aim is that the book will be used as a metaphorical arm to guide people on their way to help and wellness. “It was important that the book was extremely visual, with as few words as possible, yet still retaining that emotional content. The best thing I can do to help others is to share my own journey.”

The imagery within the book is extremely effective. Beautifully drawn by Turkish illustrator Korkut Öztekin, each of the 700 watercolour illustrations demonstrate the feelings felt by Brent as his story unfolds. Developing the artwork was a painstaking experience, taking both men over three years to complete as they established exactly what tone each image needed to project.

Brent hopes that his book will become a valuable resource for those working with people affected by depression and anxiety, whether they’re social workers, support workers, or AMHPs, saying “So many different issues are covered in this book, from the personal impact of depression to the effect on family and friends as well as the stigma from society, so it very much has the potential to be used as a support aid.”

Whilst the stigma of mental health is changing, largely in part to a growing understanding of depression, Brent admits that it is becoming easier to start conversations with people about mental health issues although there is still plenty of work to be done. He singles out the support of family and friends as crucial for those struggling with depression stating that because it can affect people in different ways, it’s often difficult for loved ones to know how to respond. He suggests that the best way to help somebody is to “simply be a trusted pair of ears” and help them find the answer within themselves.

He says “It takes a lot of courage for somebody with depression to ignore that horrible voice in their head and I think those who work in mental health positions need to realise exactly how important their role is.

“When you’re caught in a depressive state, it’s almost impossible to take someone’s advice as to how to get better because your brain simply isn’t functioning the way it should do. Taking the time to build a strong relationship and being available is the best way to help someone as it will give them strength and hope to take onboard any practical advice whether it’s self-help activities or referrals to other services.”

Talking to Brent, writing the book has not only aided his own therapy as he laid the ghosts of his father to rest, but it has also had a positive effect on his relationships with his family who initially struggled to deal with his depression. “One of the hardest things about depression is being unable to articulate exactly how you are feeling so to be able to have something which visually explained exactly how I felt has opened up a lot of conversations with my family. I see this book as a letter to my children.”

Author biography:

New Zealand-born Brent Williams trained as a lawyer, specialising in community law, creating services and resources for young people. However, when Brent was in his late forties, he suffered from depression and anxiety which prevented him from working. ‘Out of the Woods’ is his honest memoir detailing his experiences and what he learnt as he recovered.

‘Out of the Woods’ can be bought directly from Amazon or all good booksellers.
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