How the ‘blues’ of polar heroes throws light on Sad syndrome

A ‘peculiar madness’ afflicted Antarctic explorers, a new book reveals. Their battles with light deprivation hold lessons for today

In the winter of 1897 a surgeon aboard the first research ship ever to spend a whole winter in Antarctic waters observed a worrying affliction among his crewmates. “The men were incapable of concentration, and unable to continue prolonged thought,” wrote Frederick A Cook of his time aboard the Belgica. “One sailor was forced to the verge of insanity but he recovered with the returning sun.”

Given that the darkness of a polar winter can last up to six months, this was no small problem, as a new book makes clear. Among the heroes in Icy Graves: Exploration and Death in the Antarctic are many who buckled under a strain to which few would – or could – openly admit.

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Gary Barlow opens up about his weight issues and daughter’s death

Singer reveals how he became ‘unrecognisable’ after putting on weight when Take That split

Gary Barlow did not leave his house for about six months in the years after Take That broke up and his weight rose to 109kg (17st 2lbs).

The singer spoke emotionally at the Cheltenham literature festival of how good it was that the tide was turning and men could now openly discuss their problems. He also spoke movingly about the death of his daughter, in 2012, in the hope it would help others.

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Gary Barlow opens up about his weight issues and daughter’s death

Singer reveals how he became ‘unrecognisable’ after putting on weight when Take That split

Gary Barlow did not leave his house for about six months in the years after Take That broke up and his weight rose to 109kg (17st 2lbs).

The singer spoke emotionally at the Cheltenham literature festival of how good it was that the tide was turning and men could now openly discuss their problems. He also spoke movingly about the death of his daughter, in 2012, in the hope it would help others.

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Out of my mind: Sarah Perry on writing under the influence of drugs

When a medical condition left her in agony, The Essex Serpent author was prescribed powerful opiates. They gave her terrifying visions - and a new insight into literary drug culture

The poet Mary Robinson was, said Coleridge, a woman of undoubted Genius. She published her first book while a child bride in a debtors’ prison; she was a political radical who took the future George IV as a lover; in portraits her eyes are serious and her mouth is not. But sickness being no respecter of even the most fascinating people, she acquired an infection at the age of 26, and afterwards lived with paralysis and pain. One night in Bath, finding her suffering intolerable, she dosed herself with 80 drops of a tincture of alcohol and opium, and drowsily composed a poem called “The Maniac”, “like a person talking in her sleep”. Inspired by the memory of a vagrant, ...

Jokes about ‘snowflakes’ ignore the crisis in young mental health | Holly Bourne

My young adult novel about mental illness has been ridiculed, along with my call for greater kindness. But really, it’s not a laughing matter

There’s no more powerful way to silence someone than to call them crazy. This one word swiftly minimises a person’s anguish as something wrong with them, rather than an appropriate response to a malfunctioning society. These days, whenever a young person is brave enough to talk about their emotional distress, they’re called “snowflakes”. It’s dangerous abuse, and it needs to stop.

My young adult novel about mental illness, Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? asks the question – are young people really overly sensitive, or is their suffering actually a by-product of an unkind world? I’ve been travelling to schools around the country, and talking to them about Compassion Focused Therapy, trying to free young people from their self-hatred and shame about their mental health ...

This worried world: why anxiety memoirs are filling our shelves

As society shifts towards talking more openly about mental illness, readers are hungry for answers and authenticity

Publishing trends reflect the age we are living in. It’s not just about the sort of stories people want to write, but the stories that people want to read.

In 1987, London advertising executive Peter Mayle took a second home in the south of France intending to spend a year writing his novel, A Year in Provence. Instead he sparked a mini-industry of blockbuster aspirational travel memoirs which lasted for two decades.

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Lucia by Alex Pheby review – in search of James Joyce’s daughter

This extraordinary novel inspired by the life of Lucia Joyce tells the troubling story of a woman who is confined and abused

“This book”, reads the prefatory note to Alex Pheby’s third novel, “is intended as a work of art. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in an artistic manner. Any representations of actual persons are either coincidental, or have been altered for artistic effect.” Erm, OK.

The Lucia of Pheby’s book is Lucia Joyce. She is a dancer, inmate of an asylum in Northampton, sister to George/Giorgio, niece to Stanislav, daughter of James and Nora, lover of artists … Sound familiar? The real Lucia Joyce was born in Trieste in 1907 and became a professional dancer. She was the lover of the artists Alexander Calder and Albert Hubbell. She died in 1982, having spent most of ...

What if women were told the truth? A mother who was not ready for motherhood chronicles the blood, sweat and tears of having a baby

What if women were told the truth? Meaghan O’Connell chronicles the blood, sweat and tears of having a baby

Lately I’ve found I gobble up birth stories. I read them all. As I don’t have children, nor do I seem to want them, perhaps my curiosity has to do with how little I know about this common, pivotal experience. We’ve each been formed, grown in, and either pushed or pulled from a woman’s body, yet for most of my life I’ve learned less about childbirth than I have about, for example, the intricacies of trench warfare. Should nothing but stories concerning pregnancy and early motherhood be published for the next 10 years, it would hardly redress the vast historical imbalance between what humans experience and what has been judged worth documenting. More English language literature has probably been written about medieval jousting than about childbirth. This lack is yet another ...

Is rising inequality responsible for greater stress, anxiety and mental illness?

That’s the claim made by the authors of The Inner Level, which furthers arguments first laid out in their 2009 work, The Spirit Level. They reveal the bleak truth about uneven societies

In 2009, when the world was still absorbing the shock of the previous year’s financial crisis, a book called The Spirit Level was published. Written by a couple of social epidemiologists, it argued that a whole raft of data conclusively showed that societies with greater inequality also had a range of more pronounced social problems, including higher rates of violence, murder, drug abuse, imprisonment, obesity and teenage pregnancies.

Given that naked profit motive had just taken the world to the brink of economic collapse, it was a good moment to take stock and reflect on where rising inequality was leading us. For the previous 30 years a broad consensus had operated in politics, particularly in the US and ...

Teenagers’ brains not ready for GCSEs, says neuroscientist

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore opposes timing of exams in a period of major cognitive change

Teenagers are being damaged by the British school system because of early start times and exams at 16 when their brains are going through enormous change, a leading neuroscientist has said.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore said it was only in recent years that the full scale of the changes that take place in the adolescent brain has been discovered. “That work has completely revolutionised what we think about this period of life,” she said.

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Skybound by Rebecca Loncraine review – a euphoric, courageous book

When, with severe illness, the ground disappeared from beneath Loncraine, she decided to conquer her fear, take up gliding and head for the clouds

“But I would rather be horizontal,” begins Sylvia Plath’s poem “I am Vertical”. Plath, poleaxed by depression, wishes her body to become part of the soil, yet even so looks up to the sky with a yearning for transcendence: “It is more natural to me, lying down / Then the sky and I are in open conversation”. Rebecca Loncraine invokes these lines in her memoir, Skybound, and they cast the same blend of light and shadow across this profound, euphoric and courageous book about how to live joyously, and how to meet death.

Loncraine was in her mid-30s when she got breast cancer. Two years after gruelling treatment, she entered into her own “open conversation” with the sky by learning to fly, or “soar” as she puts it, in ...

Word of the week: obesogen

If it ends with -ogen, it means something is being produced – in this case something that will make us dangerously overwight

Is your house a disgusting swamp of peril and sickness? The latest everything-is-terrifying news is the suggestion this week that dust and other particles around the home can be “obesogens” and stealthily cause us to become dangerously overweight.

The suffix -gen or -ogen (from the Greek for birth; compare “genesis”) indicates that something is being produced. An “immunogen” is any substance that produces an immune response in an organism. The substance originally known as “burnt air” or “mephitic air” was christened nitrogen after it was found to be present in nitric acid.

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Never-ending nightmare: why feminist dystopias must stop torturing women

The Handmaid’s Tale has inspired a new generation of writers whose dystopian worlds are ever more bleak, dark and sadistic. But where is the hope?

A woman, pregnant by rape, is denied an abortion, legally detained and subjected to a forced caesarean. A woman on low income wants to leave her controlling partner but can’t, because a government policy designed to “prevent family breakdown” means all their benefits are paid into his account. A woman reports a sexual assault, but the police don’t believe her, so they prosecute her for making a false allegation, while her attacker remains free to attack more victims. Girls are systematically groomed into prostitution, and police ignore their abusers. A man boasts on tape that he can “grab” women “by the pussy”: he is elected president. These are all things that happened in Ireland, the UK and the US over the last decade.

As the ...

This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay – review

Frank and funny, this is a moving tribute to the people who keep the NHS going

In 2010, after six years of training and six more on the wards, Adam Kay hung up his stethoscope. A few months earlier, while he was a senior registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology (or “brats and twats” as it’s apparently known), he had had to deal with a complicated birth in which the baby died. The mother was losing blood by the litre and needed an emergency hysterectomy to save her life.

As Kay’s diary of his time as a junior doctor so eloquently shows, medics are used to tragedy. But this awful experience scarred him. It was the last straw after regularly having to work more than 90 hours a week (“the parking meters outside the hospital are on a better hourly rate”) and dealing with everything from “itchy teeth” and patients who ...

Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich review – wise words on real wellness

The author and activist’s sharp critique of what she calls an ‘epidemic of overdiagnosis’ is a joyous celebration of life

You may view your body as a temple – particularly if you exercise ferociously, detox regularly, desist from alcohol, tobacco, sugar and all processed foods and positivity seeps out of every pore – but the indefatigable Barbara Ehrenreich has news for you. No amount of mindfulness, self-discipline and denial can spare you from your macrophages, the large white blood cells in your tissues that are found especially at the site of infection. They are out to get you. If they so choose, you will depart this world early and possibly painfully; control is an illusion.

Ehrenreich is a socialist, activist and fighter for universal healthcare, women’s rights and economic justice; she is a multi-award-winning investigative journalist and author of more than 20 books, including the seminal bestseller Nickel and Dimed: ...

Brainstorm by Suzanne O’Sullivan – the neurologist as sleuth

The author of It’s All in Your Head investigates mysterious symptoms as a detective would, but still marvels at the mysteries of the brain

Victor Horsley, one of the first surgeons to carry out a successful brain operation, was renowned for his arrogance towards peers and extraordinary sensitivity to patients. A junior doctor recalled that when conducting ward rounds, “he gave each patient the impression that he was his sole care in life and would arrange their pillows with a tender deftness”. In 1886, his operation on James B, an anonymous patient with intractable epilepsy, cured him of further seizures; it rendered James B a significant footnote in medical history and made Horsley a star.

That first brain surgery illuminates the symbiotic relationship of patient and physician, now explored often in this golden age of doctor-authors. In transcribing case histories as the source material for books, medics must wrestle with ...

From swapped babies to psychosis: author explores harrowing side of motherhood

GP Susi Fox’s debut novel digs deep into stress and exposes medicine’s sexist practices

Babies being swapped at birth is a persistent urban legend, and like the best horror stories it has roots in fact. There’s the Austrian woman who discovered, at 22 years old, that her mother and father were not her biological parents. The two families in Assam, India, whose newborns were given to the wrong mothers. And a French woman who took someone else’s baby home. It’s true. Doctors and nurses who hold lives in their hands sometimes make mistakes.

The GP-turned-writer Susi Fox’s psychological thriller Mine teases out this nightmare and uses it to explore cultural anxieties about birth and hospitals. Fox examines the dark side of motherhood – mental illness, failure, violent thoughts – and refuses to look away.

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From swapped babies to psychosis: author explores harrowing side of motherhood

GP Susi Fox’s debut novel digs deep into stress and exposes medicine’s sexist practices

Babies being swapped at birth is a persistent urban legend, and like the best horror stories it has roots in fact. There’s the Austrian woman who discovered, at 22 years old, that her mother and father were not her biological parents. The two families in Assam, India, whose newborns were given to the wrong mothers. And a French woman who took someone else’s baby home. It’s true. Doctors and nurses who hold lives in their hands sometimes make mistakes.

The GP-turned-writer Susi Fox’s psychological thriller Mine teases out this nightmare and uses it to explore cultural anxieties about birth and hospitals. Fox examines the dark side of motherhood – mental illness, failure, violent thoughts – and refuses to look away.

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Brainstorm: Detective Stories from the World of Neurology; Unthinkable: The World’s Strangest Brains – review

Books by Suzanne O’Sullivan and Helen Thomson offer fascinating insights into the ‘maverick brain’ and rare mental conditions

When I was a boy I had a recurring dream that Lilliputian figures were scurrying under my bed. I can’t recall if they bound my hands and feet like Gulliver, but I certainly found their activities fascinating and made no effort to resist, even when, on occasion, they succeeded in moving my bed slightly to the left or right.

Every now and then, however, they would push the bed a little too close to the window. That I did not like, because it put me in range of the clown waiting on the balcony (I have always been terrified by clowns). Now, frozen by fear, I really was immobilised and it was only by screaming that I could snap myself awake and escape their night-time peregrinations.

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Time for change: Ann Enright on Ireland’s abortion referendum

In the coming weeks, voters in Ireland will have the chance to repeal the eighth amendment, which recognises the equal rights to life of a foetus and the mother during pregnancy. We must send a message to the world, the author declares

Recently I spoke to a reasonable, sane Irish woman who said that she was against abortion and because she was so reasonable and sane, I was curious what she meant by that. Was she against the morning after pill? Certainly not. What about chemical abortifacients? They did not really worry her too much. So, what about terminations before 12 or 13 weeks, the time when woman are often given the all clear to confirm their pregnancy to family and friends? This woman was not, all things considered, against terminations during this window, when pregnancy is not considered medically certain. She was also, just to make clear, in favour ...