"Finding True North: The Healing Power of Place" by Linda Gask is a remarkable book. Beautifully written and clearly intended for a wide audience it succeeds in being highly accessible while at the same time exploring deep and sometimes difficult issues and ideas.
At one level this book tells the story of the author's move to Orkney from Yorkshire and the life she leads there. The cycle of life in Orkney provides the underlying structure for the narrative and a sense of direction for the book. It also provides a point of departure for a series of explorations by the author of her lifelong struggle with her mental health. As a result we leave Orkney frequently on journeys through episodes in the author's earlier career, training, her extensive travels and her childhood.
Issues surrounding mental health have become much more acknowledged in recent times and are much less stigmatising that was once the case: something that looks set to become still more important in a post-pandemic world. It is therefore grimly fascinating to follow one woman's efforts to manage her own mental health as she struggles to come to terms with the new environment she has chosen to live in. Will Orkney's unique qualities, qualities that have been experienced and appreciated by just about anyone who has ever been there, allow her to find a degree of perspective, spiritual relief and healing that seemed unattainable through psychiatric therapy and medication?
What really sets this book apart as something of wider value and interest is that the author was for many years a consultant psychiatrist and is Emerita Professor of Primary Care Psychiatry at the University of Manchester. This gives her a unique perspective on her own struggles with her mental health. It should also provide a clear answer to anyone who has ever believed that depression is something the sufferer can "snap out of"; or that mental illness is somehow optional.
We emerged from the book unclear whether, in a world with no easy answers, "the healing power of place" is in itself necessarily the ultimate answer to anything: but knowing Orkney, we can certainly believe it helps. We also emerged with the sense that the level of self-analysis the author has revealed with such striking honesty in this book can only be of help to her. We certainly hope so.