Reasons to Stay Alive book review: A timeless mental health masterpiece

Matt Haig’s ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ is as much about personal resilience and self-growth as it is about mental health. It’s a powerful read for anyone who thinks there is no way forward.

Matt Haig has become one of the leading mental health advocates and for some good reason. His candidness, open vulnerability and self-deprecating humour on social media, in particular, have helped make a complex and intensely personal topic far more approachable.

But rewind a little and this is where it is arguably all started.

Released back in 2014, Reasons To Stay Alive was actually Matt’s tenth book but it propelled him into the limelight. After reading the book, it’s easy to see why.

What is ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ about?

Reasons To Stay Alive is Matt’s story of living with anxiety and depression, and making the most of your life. It’s a deeply personal story, focusing heavily on his difficulties while living abroad in Ibiza. And arguably it was ahead of its time; here you have 200 pages of one man talking about his experiences with depression in the fullest and frankest terms, in an era where ‘man up’ was a familiar societal term.

In Matt’s own words, he wrote the book as a kind of self-help therapy, explaining that ‘time heals’ and ‘the tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven’t been able to see it’.

It’s this talent with words, and these finely crafted analogies and metaphors, that make his struggles so relatable. In fact, I am sure the reason Matt resonates so widely is that he is able to root these struggles in everyday language that other sufferers just ‘get’, no questions asked. This isn’t some academic throwing around medical buzzwords, or an influencer rolling out the trite and increasingly cliched ‘just talk’ - it’s a normal man talking candidly about his struggles, worts and all.

“You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames”, and “I didn’t want to be dead, I just didn’t want to be alive” are just some of the more eye-catching quotes from the book, and there were many more.

This is one of the reasons it’s an easy, free-flowing read. The chapters are short and sweet and the book is surprisingly unorthodox in its structuring - perhaps you could even say the chapter ordering is a little chaotic. But then when you think about it, mental health isn’t neat and orderly in the slightest, so why would any book on the subject be?

It’s also a self-help guide

Yet it would be wrong to describe Reasons To Stay Alive as simply one man’s mental health memoir because it offers so much more that that - especially in the second half.

At one point, I had wondered if it was going to be another personal story with little tangible advice. As someone who has struggled with some of the problems Matt describes, I did think; ‘how can I take this and apply it to my own life?’

I needn’t have worried as Matt goes onto some useful guidance, including the amusingly titled ‘40 pieces to live by but don’t always follow’ and ‘Things people say to depressives that they don’t say in other life-threatening situations’. So in that sense, Reasons To Stay Alive is a useful guide for both sufferers and family members or friends worried about someone they care about.

There’s also some guidance in what Matt has himself adopted - for example, he talks positively of the impact of running, yoga and travel.

And to back up key points he’s not afraid to dig out research: for example, who knew that the suicide ratio is 6-1 to men in Greece? Or that while the female suicide rate halved from 2,466 in the thirty years to 2011, male suicide went up from 4,129 to 4,590 over the same period?

Mental health and toxic masculinity

Personally, I feel mental health has become so all-encompassing that it’s hard to know where the boundaries lie. And this is where I think Matt expertly weaves the topic into the fabric of other everyday societal issues we’ve all faced.

For example, he touches on things like low mood, being thin-skinned, trying to become what people expect you to be, and loneliness when living away from home.

He raises, with no agenda, the problems around toxic masculinity, a view also picked up in Jack Urwin’s book Man Up (another worthy read) and discusses the impact his struggles had on his relationship with his now-wife, Andrea.

As such, he manages to weave in mental health into so many other societal factors that impact our wellbeing on a daily basis.

Why you should buy Reasons To Stay Alive

Reasons To Stay Alive is a powerful mental health story, which skillfully interlinks Matt’s own struggles with practical guidance on how you can look after yourself.

It breaks down depression in real terms, to help understand what it looks and feels like in yourself, and in others too. It keeps you hooked all the way through and it’s an insightful read for those trying to figure mental health - and what their purpose is.

You can buy it here.