Opinion | Matt Haig opens the way for mental health discourse


Photo courtesy of Robin Mair / Flickr

Columnist Storey Childs argues that more people should follow the lead of British author Matt Haig and destigmatize conversations about mental illness.

By Storey Childs, Columnist

Trigger Warning: This column discusses suicide.

Matt Haig is a British author of seven novels, selling over three million copies worldwide. His popular titles include “The Midnight Library” and his memoir “Reasons to Stay Alive. 

Outside of his flourishing literary career, Haig is also known for sincerely opening up about his mental health on his popular Instagram account, which has over 700,000 followers. By sharing his experiences, Haig has increased the depth of the public mental health discourse and demonstrated that humans are complex. This transparency has become a catalyst for connection. 

Haig’s impact began with his 2015 memoir “Reasons to Stay Alive.”

Within this memoir, Haig illustrates one of his lowest moments. From a cliff in Ibiza, he “looked at the sea, and at the rugged limestone coastline, dotted with deserted beaches,” contemplating whether he could and should “summon up the courage” to step off of the side.

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Haig has set a standard of what it means to be transparent about mental health struggles, creating a conversation that continues to grow today.

Seven years after the publication of “Reasons to Stay Alive,” Haig resumes this dialogue by sharing his diagnoses of ADHD and autism he recently received at the age of 46. 

According to the Child Mind Institute, it can be estimated that 30–40% of children with an autism spectrum disorder also have ADHD and sensory processing challenges. Consequently, autism spectrum disorders can be incorrectly diagnosed as, for example, a more extreme version of ADHD.

Haig remarks in his Instagram post that he was “expecting the ADHD one. Jeez, I am a walking ADHD cliché.” But he further states that the autism diagnosis came as more of a shock. 

Haig’s reflection on his late diagnosis encourages his followers to understand that a diagnosis, whether earlier or later in life, does not define someone but rather contributes to their life, expected or not.

Diagnoses are a distinct aspect of anyone’s mental health journey, and sharing such insight with others serves as a tool for them to use as an opportunity to learn, acknowledge and grow. 

“So much of my mental difficulties have been to do with me trying to be neurotypical with a mind that isn’t,” Haig articulates. “Knowing … your brain … helps so much so I’d recommend anyone who feels they may be (neurotypical) to look into it.”

Knowing your brain is a layered idea. Diagnoses can help people understand and reflect on why they do certain things or act a certain way. 

Matt Haig encourages the world to discover itself. Past mental health discourse placed excessive emphasis on the illnesses or disorders that one may “have.” Haig utilizes honest conversations to reframe diagnoses as tools used toward the goal of understanding oneself.

Haig has managed to understand himself further and encourages others to do the same. He has connected with others by courageously sharing about himself. 

Saying that the conversations surrounding mental health, disorders and diagnoses are layered would be an understatement. It requires people to be able to articulately advocate for themselves and others, sharing their own experiences as a gateway to connection. 

Matt Haig is one of those people. Following his example, more people should also share their journeys to advance and destigmatize discussions surrounding mental health.

Storey is a junior in LAS.

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