Margaret S. Chisolm, "From Survive to Thrive: Living Your Best Life with Mental Illness" (Johns Hopkins UP, 2021)


The term “mental illness” can itself be anxiety-inducing and depressing. There are words, though, that can counter the fears and stresses that mind-related conditions induce in most of us at some point in our lives. One of those bracing, comforting words is, “flourishing.” That welcome word abounds in the 2021 book From Survive to Thrive: Living Your Best Life with Mental Illness (Johns Hopkins UP, 2021) by Dr. Margaret S. Chisolm, a psychiatrist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. This is the ideal book if you have been struggling from everything from a bout of depression to schizophrenia or love someone who is.

This short book is just the tonic for those experiencing a range of conditions, including substance abuse or even dissatisfaction with the way their lives are going but who are uncertain what changes to make, if any. There is also some frank discussion of suicide, either of a loved one or the thoughts of ending one’s life that afflict many people at times.

Dr. Chisolm uses her own experience with postpartum depression when she was a busy young physician in a fellowship training program to illustrate how those in the throes of a mental health crisis often need to be nudged by a spouse or other family member to seek professional help.

The book delineates what that help should look like. We are introduced to the four perspectives through which all mental health concerns should be addressed, according to Dr. Chisolm. These are: disease, dimensional, behavior, and life story. She advocates for a thoroughgoing Mental Status Exam (MSE) and encourages the involvement of family members in the process given that the person in mental distress may not be equipped just then to provide crucial background and may lack awareness of worrying changes in his or her behavior.

Chisolm does not sugarcoat the grim realities of serious mental conditions. But the book is upbeat. Its tone is good-humored common sense and the message is hopeful. We are given practical advice on how to make incremental changes (such as long walks and jobs, whether for pay or volunteer) that will enhance our mental and physical health.

Along these lines, the doctor describes the four pathways associated with well-being: family, work, education, and community.

Let’s hear from Margaret Chisolm herself about the book.

Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.

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Hope J. Leman

Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher in the biomedical sciences. She is particularly interested in the subjects of natural law, religious liberty and history generally.

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