Mar 12

Depression in Women: Three Recent Memoirs

Three recent memoirs by women living with depression. One brand new, the others 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) 

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.