Books to explain depression?
April 10, 2015 8:23 PM   Subscribe

I want my family and friends to better understand what I'm going through when I'm depressed and/or anxious. Are there good books (fiction or nonfiction) that explain what being clinically depressed is like?

The personal bit:
I'm 27 years old, already in therapy with a good doctor, on meds, and actually in a pretty good place at the moment. But I recently was laid off and I can just feel the depression edging its way in. I'm in a state of flux as I try to decide where to search for my next job, and get on top of it. My parents and friends are trying to be emotionally supportive but have no idea how, and I'd like them to feel like they can do something besides worry. Perhaps a book is the best way to explain what depression is, and how I'm trying to cope?

The only semi-relevant AskMeFi question I've found is this one. Webcomic Hyperbole and a half isn't exactly my family's style and would probably make things more confusing.

posted by Political Funny Man to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
When I read Andrew Solomon's book The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression I remember feeling like it was the most accurate, insightful description of depression I'd found.
posted by Lexica at 8:44 PM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

I thought the Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath) was a perfect depiction of depression as I experienced it, especially the aggression, insomnia and memory loss that I haven't seen elsewhere.
posted by sweetkid at 8:54 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I came here to suggest The Noonday Demon too (which I see is also in the older thread you found), but it can be quite heavy at times, since while there is some science/clinical stuff in there, it's more of a memoir, and also a bit lengthy. It depends on what you think your family's style is and what they can handle. If they're in a position where they're eager to help and understand, it may be the right choice. I personally found it deeply affecting, moving and validating as someone who's struggled with mental illness for a long time.

William Styron's Darkness Visible is a more succinct take on similar issues (likewise cited in the thread you linked), and also effective.
posted by Kosh at 8:55 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I really identified with William Styron's memoir Darkness Visible. Just over 80 pages, it's a short read, but oh so awfully descriptive.
posted by BoscosMom at 8:55 PM on April 10, 2015

The link above has some quotes from Darkness Visible that will alone give you some helpful descriptions.
posted by BoscosMom at 9:02 PM on April 10, 2015

"The madness of depression is, generally speaking, the antithesis of violence. It is a storm indeed, but a storm of murk. Soon evident are the slowed-down responses, near paralysis, psychic energy throttled back close to zero. Ultimately, the body is affected and feels sapped, drained.
William Styron, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
posted by BoscosMom at 9:06 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Darkness Visible, yes. Lewis Wolpert's Malignant Sadness, also.
posted by holgate at 9:20 PM on April 10, 2015

I'd like them to feel like they can do something besides worry
One thing that might help with this is to develop a wellness plan. This is something you develop (with help from your therapist and other supporters) that documents how you want to handle situations when you're struggling with depression and can specifically include how your family can help. There is one example here: the Wellness Recovery Action Plan but the basic idea can be implemented in whatever way makes sense to you.
posted by metahawk at 10:30 PM on April 10, 2015

It's not a book, but have you seen Depression Quest? It's like a choose-your-own-adventure book (but as a website). Caution: a number of people who suffered from depression commented it was a bit too much for them in a thread about it on the blue. But mostly people said it was realistic.
posted by Cheese Monster at 5:05 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

If they like science anecdotes, Against Depression could be good despite its age (nearly a decade now). It talks a lot about the known physical basis for depression, not just chemistry but also genetics and the structure of neuronal connections in the prefrontal cortex. So if there's a "skeptical" type that thinks you could just snap out of it somehow, this book explains why that's not so true of depression. It's also a polemic against the idea that depression is a positive trait for art or for our culture as a whole, which is an unthinkable thing for me, but apparently a common enough reaction to his previous book on Prozac.

It's probably not a book for everyone, however, quite wordy and long.
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:12 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

What about Prozac Nation?
posted by SisterHavana at 12:08 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

This talk by Stanford's Robert Sapolsky (SLYT) is good about the physiological basis of depression as a real illness.
posted by anadem at 12:49 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

umpteenthing The Noonday Demon. reading it, you will feel like "finally, someone who knows what depression really is."
posted by megan_magnolia at 5:17 PM on April 11, 2015

I think David Foster Wallace gives a good portrayal of it via Kate Gompert in Infinite Jest, though she's a minor character.
posted by alphanerd at 8:00 PM on April 11, 2015

I hadn't heard of the William Styron book, but having read those quotes I think it sounds spot-on.

Also, not a book and it does include a bit by Allie Brosh, but here's some comics that I think do a pretty good job too.
posted by Athanassiel at 12:33 AM on April 12, 2015

I've not read it, but a friend's book group recently chose Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey, and the group's reactions were split between people who had never had depression going "Oh, wow," and people who had going "Yup, uh huh."
posted by Gin and Broadband at 7:02 AM on April 12, 2015

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