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Review of "Complete Mental Health"

By John Ingram Walker
W. W. Norton, 2010
Review by Stephanie Moulton Sarkis PhD NCC LMHC on Sep 13th 2011
Complete Mental Health

John Ingram Walker MD is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.  He is also the Director of Psychiatric Education at Carilion Clinic at Saint Albans Hospital.  Ingram writes, "Because of the high incidence of mental and emotional disorders, I believe it is imperative that clinicians understand psychiatric diagnosis and treatment" (p. x). 

Chapter 1 of Complete mental health starts, "Life is about as predictable as a matchbook boat spinning down a drainage ditch.  You never know where you will end up or what you'll encounter along the way" (p. 1).  And thus your journey into the world of mental health begins.  

Complete mental health consists of seventeen chapters.  Topics covered include: "The Bipolar Spectrum: Up the Down Escalator"; "Psychosomatic Illness: Worry Wounds"; "Understanding and Managing Somatoform and Fictitious Disorders: Those Low-Down, Mind-Messin', Waitin'-In-the-Doctor's Office (sic) Blues"; "Personality Patterns, Conflicts, and Disorders: Excuses Extraordinaire", and "Sexual Dysfunction and Romantic Resolution: The Viagra Monologues".

The book combines education with a fun and informal tone.  One quiz in Chapter 7, "Psychosomatic Illness: Worry Wounds", titled "Do You Know How to Have Fun?" has the scoring categories of "Find it difficult to have fun", "Party pooper", "Fun to be around", and "Life of the party".    Table 6-3 in Chapter 6, "Anxiety and Related Disorders" provides a list of "Fantastic Phobias", including: "Ballistophobia", fear of bullets; "Decidophobia", fear of making decisions; and "Peccatophobia", fear of sinning. 

In each chapter, the author gives examples of book, movie, television and real-life characters that may meet the criteria for a particular disorder.  Scarlett O'Hara from Gone with the Wind is given as an example of Histrionic Personality Disorder.  The author details why each character could meet the qualifications for a particular disorder.   In Scarlett's case, she "combined an exaggerated expression of emotion with merciless aspiration" (p. 157).   Connecting a disorder with a character makes learning about the disorder more easily understood and, dare I say it, entertaining. 

Each chapter in Complete Mental Health is full of tables, diagrams, examples, and up-to-date research.  In Chapter 11, "Emotional Problems in Children and Adolescents: Childhood Interrupted", Table 11-5, "Behavior Concerns:  What's Normal/What's Over the Top" lists eight childhood behaviors, a normal expression of each behavior, and when each behavior is "over the top".   For example, "normal" nail biting is "picking or biting at an occasional hangnail", while "over the top" nail biting is "biting down to the quick, causing bleeding cuticles and nail beds" (p. 213).   At the end of each chapter is a "Clinician's Quiz", consisting of ten questions on the content of that chapter.  The questions are thorough and helpful in absorbing the material.   

In Chapter 4, "The Bipolar Spectrum: Up the Down Escalator", the author includes a helpful mnemonic device – BIPOLAR – for remembering the symptoms of mania.  B stands for "Blemished Behavior – buying sprees, sexual indiscretion, recklessness"; I stands for "Insomnia – an overabundance of energy that makes sleep difficult"; and O stands for "omnipotent feelings – grandiose, invincible, powerful feelings" (p. 57).  Likewise, in Chapter 12, "Alzheimer's Disease and Other Age-Old Concerns: Dulled Wit", the author uses the mnemonic device A COGNITIVE to help recall the common causes of dementia.  A stands for "Alzheimer's Disease", O stands for "Opiates and other drugs", and V stands for "vitamin deficiencies and vascular defects – strokes, poor circulation of the brain" (p. 226).    

Chapter 11, "Emotional Problems in Children and Adolescents: Childhood Interrupted" contains five quizzes for parents: "Are You an Adequate or Good Enough Parent?"; "Are You an Encouraging Parent?"; "Do You Teach Life Skills?"; "Is Your Child Hyperactive?"; and "Is Your Child Depressed?".   On the "Is Your Child Hyperactive?" scale, there is some concern about the scoring rubric.  If a child's behavior was indicated as occurring "most of the time" for three attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms out of ten, the child would be scored as "Shy" according to the rubric.   Granted, it's possible the author was injecting some humor into the scoring rubric.  Earlier in the chapter there is a list of the clinical symptoms of ADHD, so the parent is able to get an idea of how their child's behavior may or may not fit the symptoms of ADHD.  The majority of the scales in the chapter are helpful, and give parents a more realistic idea of what good parenting is – the goal is not perfection, it is being "good enough". 

The author provides a guide to the stages of Alzheimer's Disease in Chapter 12.  The chapter also has a list of medications prescribed for Alzheimer's Disease.  The brand and generic names of the medications are given, along with the recommended dose, benefits, and side effects for each.   There is also a helpful chart of "Medications for Secondary Symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease", including: the names of neurotransmitters; the symptoms of having an imbalance, excess, or deficiency in these neurotransmitters; and what medications are prescribed for each. 

Complete Mental Health would be helpful for anyone who would like to learn more about mental health issues and disorders, and who also appreciates a good sense of humor.   Complete mental health is an educational book that is able to present potentially dry material in a fun, interesting, and entertaining way.


© 2011 Stephanie Moulton


Dr. Stephanie Moulton Sarkis PhD NCC LMHC is the author of four books on adult ADHD/ADD, including Adult ADD: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed (2011).  Dr. Sarkis is an adjunct assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and is a sub-investigator at FAU Clinical Research Studies at Schmidt College of Medicine in Boca Raton Florida.  Dr. Sarkis also has a private practice in Boca Raton, and has blogs on Psychology Today and The Huffington Post.  Her website is www.stephaniesarkis.com