Reading to stay alive

WEBINAR: Tuesday 13 September 2022, 7.30 - 8.45 pm

Emeritus Professor, GP, and author Chris Dowrick will explore how literary reading ameliorates our personal and vicarious experiences of suicide. With a focus on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and his patient Charlie, he will consider how literature enables us to acknowledge the deeply unconsolable, to ‘think’ reality when ordinary human thought falls short, to allow for the possibility of imagining the ‘shabby, confused, agonised crisis which is the common reality of suicide’ and to develop empathy towards individuals who seek it. 

He intends to expand our understanding of the recursive relationship between literature and mental health and the potential for literary reading to broaden our approach to suicide prevention.

If you'd like to do some prep before the webinar, here's some options:

  1. None: just turn up and join in.
  2. Minimal: read the attached text of Anna Karenina’s final minutes and watch this YouTube clip of Kiera Knightley
  3. A bit more: read the detailed account of Anna’s last day in Book 7, chapters 27-31. If you don’t have a copy of Anna Karenina on your bookshelf, you can access a freely available e-version of the Garnett translation.
  4. Even more: compare and contrast Anna’s life and death with Levin’s existential struggles by reading the final chapters of Book 8, starting at chapter 8.
  5. A lot: of course, you can (re-)read Tolstoy’s epic novel in its entirety…


Christopher Dowrick is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Liverpool, a general practitioner in Aintree Park Group Practice, and a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

He is past Chair of the World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA) working party for mental health and provides expert advice to WHO, including its mhGAP programme.  With WONCA, he has enabled educational interventions for family doctors in Europe and Asia and leads an initiative to expand the advocacy skills of family doctors in primary mental health care. 

His research portfolio covers common mental health problems in primary care, with a focus on depression and medically unexplained symptoms. He critiques contemporary emphases on unitary diagnostic categories and medically-oriented interventions and highlights the need for socially-oriented perspectives. He has developed mental health care for marginalised communities, including asylum seekers and refugees.

He is currently exploring the ways in which literary reading can reduce emotional distress. He has published seven books and over 250 research papers.

Chris's publications include:


This presentation is intended for qualified health practitioners professional development and should not be relied upon for any other purpose. Any opinions offered are those of the presenter or other speaker and do not necessarily represent the views of Goodfellow Unit.

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