May 02

Depression Memoirs and Research

The following books about depression are recommended. All are memoirs, at least in part.

I. Alex Riley, A Cure for Darkness: The Story of Depression and How We Treat It (2021)

A psychiatrist reviewing A Cure for Darkness on Goodreads concludes: “What Riley successfully demonstrates throughout this book is that depression is an incredibly complex and diverse clinical condition. He shows how our understanding of the biological, psychological and sociocultural mechanisms underpinning depression has improved, alongside the sometimes empirical, sometimes scientific treatments. By doing so, he sheds light on the reasons why successful treatment of depression can be such a huge challenge for clinicians and patients alike.”

II. John Moe, The Hilarious World of Depression (2020)

Public radio personality John Moe, who has a podcast called The Hilarious World of Depression, is a funny person; he’s also been depressed most of his life.

Moe likes being able to put mental health issues out in the open, easing stigma for “saddies” while also educating the “normies.”

III. Lauren Slater, Blue Dreams: The Science and the Story of the Drugs that Changed Our Minds (2018)

Therapist and writer Lauren Slater knows all too well the benefits and disadvantages of taking psychotropic drugs. Diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, she’s not only been on Prozac (she authored the bestselling Prozac Diary in 1998) but also various other medications over the years. She believes there are physiological tradeoffs to taking these.

What may bring hope in the future, she notes, are the psychedelics, such as LSD, MDMA, and “magic mushrooms.” In addition, there will be “neural implants that provide a ‘malleable and reversible form of psychosurgery’” (Publishers Weekly).

IV. Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope (2018)

Journalist Hari tells readers his own long-term depression has been blamed on a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, at some point in his therapeutic process “…he began to investigate whether this was true – and he learned that almost everything we have been told about depression and anxiety is wrong.”

Hari’s research led him to this basic conclusion (HuffPost): “I learned that there are in fact nine major causes of depression and anxiety that are unfolding all around us. Two are biological, and seven are out in here in the world, rather than sealed away inside our skulls in the way my doctor told me…I was even more startled to discover this isn’t some fringe position – the World Health Organization has been warning for years that we need to start dealing with the deeper causes of depression in this way.”

V. Natasha Tracy, Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar (2016)

This is a collection of articles Tracy has written and previously posted at Bipolar Burble and Breaking Bipolar.

In an interview conducted by Leslie Lindsay Tracy states, “I don’t believe in the concept of ‘stigma’ per se. What I believe in fighting is prejudice and the inevitable discrimination that follows it. I believe that by making people with mental illness three-dimensional people with real emotions and real struggles, we actually start to sound just like everyone else – just amplified.”

VI. David Blistein, David’s Inferno: My Journey Through the Dark Wood of Depression (2013)

Blistein’s reference point is The Divine Comedy of the poet Danté, who was familiar with “both depths of despair and manic visions of rapture.”

Caroline Carr, author of Living with Depression: How to Cope When Your Partner is Depressed, calls David’s Inferno “(w)arm and compassionate, often hilarious, and full of hope and encouragement.”

VII. Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (2001)

For a deeper look at this groundbreaking memoir, see my previous post.

Mar 12

Women with Depression: Three Recent Memoirs

Women with depression are featured in three memoirs featured below. One is brand new, the others are from 2016 and 2017. One of the three, by the way, is an account by a psychiatrist—about herself.

I. Mary Cregan, The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery (March 2019)   

Although Cregan was first identified as suffering from severe clinical depression after the death of her infant daughter in 1983, she came to realize this wasn’t her first experience with the condition.

From Kirkus Reviews: “Moreover, depression had afflicted many members of her extended family, strong evidence of a genetic connection. As she discovered from research into the history of diagnosis and treatment, there has been much debate about whether the disorder arises from the mind or the body, whether it is a ‘maladaptive response’ to life circumstances or a biological mood disorder associated with chemical imbalances.”

Cregan has benefited from therapy—including electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)—and medication, among other things.

II. Daphne Merkin, This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression (2017) 

The next of the women with depression, Merkin has experienced not one but three inpatient stays in her lifetime, starting in childhood. Despite lots of therapy and prescribed medications, depression is not something that completely goes away, Merkin has found.

She writes: “It was one thing to be depressed in your twenties or thirties, when the aspect of youth gave it an undeniable poignancy, a certain tattered charm; it was another thing entirely to be depressed in middle age, when you were supposed to have come to terms with life’s failings, as well as your own.”

III. Linda Gask, The Other Side of Silence: A Psychiatrist’s Memoir of Depression (2016)   

No longer in clinical practice, Gask does remain a psychiatry faculty member in the UK. In the following excerpt she questions the origins of her depressive condition:

Perhaps my depression coincided with the start of every academic year and the subsequent increase in my workload. Or maybe there was a more biological explanation linked to the fact that I, like many people with depressed mood, find the absence of light at these latitudes intolerable in the winter months. I didn’t know the answer – I still don’t. This is who I am. I cope most of the time; I am well for months, sometimes even for more than a year; but there are recurring periods in my life when the world seems a darker, more hostile and unforgiving place. I am a person who gets depressed.

An excerpt from Dr. Lilian Hickey‘s book review (Medical Humanities blog):

The professionals who make a difference to Gask are described candidly – the kind, the solid, the unreliable, the awkward and the wise. We are reminded that the right psychiatrist or therapist can be an astonishing lifeline on the edge of a mental abyss, and over the years her medical and psychotherapeutic relationships have been essential aspects of her own soul-rescuing in times of dread or confusion.

…There are different sorts of treatments and some have worked for Gask better than others. That things change – illness and the medical and psychological therapies which help, at different times in life – is a given.