I bought this book about ten years ago at a time when I was very depressed. It seemed like The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon might be relevant but actually I found it too upsetting to read.
The sub-title of the book is An Atlas of Depression. It starts with the author’s own experience and an overview of depression in the US today. It is quite heavily focussed on the US but does occasionally talk about other parts of the world. Then Solomon covers current treatments for depression, how it appears in different populations, its relationship to addiction, poverty and suicide, attitudes to depression in history and current politics, and how it might fit with evolution.
Reading it at this stage in my life (I’m not currently depressed; episodes tend to be shorter and less severe; and I have an effective strategy for dealing with it), was easier in the sense that it wasn’t triggering, but it’s not an easy read. It’s full of fascinating facts, stories of the experiences of lots of people, and some interesting theories. I particularly liked the chapter on suicide and the revelation that feeling suicidal is not that well linked to being depressed.
The chapter on depression in history was also interesting – depression is not a modern problem – and gave some insight into how the attitude that depression is weakness of character has developed. I also liked that while this is hung around the story of the author’s experience he presents a wide range of other stories. Solomon looks at how behaviours such as aggression and violence might have a root in depression. The section on poverty has some thought-provoking ideas about how treating depression could have an impact on solving social problems.
What I didn’t like so much was what was missing. Somewhat inevitably, not every experience of depression is related here. While I found much that I could identify with, I didn’t find my experience. I’m one of those depressives that does a really good impression of not being depressed and while there were a couple of passing references to that experience, it isn’t given the same focus as other experiences such as being hopsitalised, or confined to bed for months at a time. Reading it now, that’s fine, but if I’d made it through the book the first time I’d have found that invalidating.
Another little niggle is that the author dismisses being a woman living in a male-dominated society as a cause of depression. As Solomon seems to be able to get his head around the concepts of internalized racism and homophobia, it is a little galling that he can’t extend that to internalized sexism.
However, these are small-ish points and I still found a great deal to enjoy in the book. If you live with depression, or are close to someone else who does, and are prepared for a moderately hard read, this book will provide a lot of insight. It’s not the whole story but it’s a good place to start.