Book Review: First Aid to Mental Illness
Techniques to heal an injured mind
NEW YORK CITYVOICES: November/December 2002
By Lance Jaffe
When you scrape your knee or cut your finger, you bleed. You can clean the wound, apply an
antibiotic, dress it with a bandage and go on with your day. How do you attend to the emotional
wounds from mental illness? Sadness and regret can often get the best of us. A band-aid won't do
it. Suddenly, you have to contend with an unknown quantity.
To a novice in the mental health field or for someone whose loved one is afflicted with severe
emotional problems and are just recognizing them, Michael G. Rayel, M.D.'s First Aid to Mental
Illness helps guide them on what to do to bring relief and control so they don't get overwhelmed,
preventing action from being taken later than they should as the symptoms worsen. Dr. Rayel gives
helpful clinical and practical solutions to help stem the tide when symptoms begin to set in and
methods to help heal the painful slings and arrows of a wide range of afflictions, such as panic
attacks, depression, anxiety, mood swings, eating disorders, even trauma and bereavement.
Depression is the invisible illness. You're laughing on the outside, crying on the inside.
Sometimes there are no visible signs but the mind and body are suffering so unbearably, many people
become socially "paralyzed" or even commit suicide. As one who is suffering from the slings and
arrows of depression, it is frustrating for me that I have a legitimate and potentially dangerous
disease, but it's dismissed even by family and friends because they don't understand. Dr. Rayel
validates it as he acknowledges how people are labeled "lazy" and told to "smarten up," "grow up"
and "go to work". I could relate to that as well-intentioned people victimized me with those very
The doctor's humane and easy to understand approach on how to cope empowers patients and those that
help take care of them against disorders that can flare up at any time like a hot flame or sneak in
and bite like a poisonous snake. This mental "first-aid kit" emphasizes practical ways to help and
heal such as healthy breathing techniques, visualization of peaceful places and the acceptance of
the illness as a reality and how to recognize when the next step is to bring in professional
As a consumer in the mental health world and one who has to deal with raw nerves on a daily basis,
I appreciate this book as a first aid kit for mental wellness because it makes sense to me and
keeps emphasizing the need for education and practical ways to help one's self during the early
stages of a blue or psychotic episode. Dr. Rayel's philosophy is that there's no reason for people
to suffer needlessly because now you know some of the skills to ward off and recognize negative
side-effects. Knowledge is an essential tool in my fight to function in this world. Take your life
by the reigns and ride your disease instead of letting it ride you.