Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness


‘With every change that occurs in life, the constancy of nature underpins everything.’

I once read somewhere that depression is like suffering an allergic reaction to the world around us. That’s not to say it always has a definitive cause - more that when we create societies that are uncaring, restrictive, exhausting, unnatural and unliveable, our minds inevitably rebel. I’ve thankfully never suffered with depression, but, like most people, I am surrounded by friends and family who have. Joe Harkness has written a book that is at once heartbreaking, uplifting, funny, honest and vulnerable, offering the reader a glimpse into what I will sweepingly label the ‘anxious’ mind.

I’ve always loved birding, although I didn’t realise it was called birding until I started hanging out with other nature nerds in my twenties. When I was eight or nine, I remember being given my first guide book by a family friend (Bill Oddie’s Birds of Britain and Ireland), and starting my own birding notebook - in which I proudly scribbled my first observed species, the woodpigeon. For as long as I can remember, watching birds has offered me moments of peace and focus, but I never really bothered to find out why that was.

The beauty of this book is not only the fluidity of its writing - which feels almost as though you’re having a long conversation with a good friend - but the raw honesty about Joe’s experiences with mental health. I’m certain I could never write something with this level of bravery, and behind it all, the science, research and simple advice makes it a genuinely useful and fascinating tool for anyone looking to get closer to nature and ease their own anxieties. Best of all - it’s funny. I loved the references to birder culture, and how offputting it can be to be scoffed at by camouflaged birders who think a hide is only for hushed experts, not children, amateurs or appalling birders like me.

In an age of both climate- and mental-health-based crises, this book is a powerful and important voice for compassion in an often apathetic world. Bird Therapy by Joe Harkness is available online and in all good bookshops from 13 June.