Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Understanding Depression

Maria Prendergast’s Understanding Depression is the best book for understanding the phenomenon of depression I have come across. She has previously written Understanding Asthma and Understanding Migraine, so I take it she has a formula for such books.

If so, it’s a good one. One of the great strengths of Understanding Depression is she lets sufferers speak at length about their experiences. Chapter Seven is entirely made up of long (but highly readable) statements by sufferers. Chapter Eight is entirely made of long, highly readable, statements by people who have cared for/lived with sufferers. I found them particularly moving. The last chapter is a list of resources for depression sufferers.

Prendergast starts with how hard it is to define depression—and to convey its “feel”. She then takes us through how pervasive it is our society. Then what depression is, treatments for depression, recovering from depression, professional perspectives on depression. All very clearly written and interspersed with paragraph long (or longer) quotes from sufferers and relevant professionals.

Chapter Six (Food and Chemical Intolerance) is written by Sue Dengate, a psychologist who has written several books on the subject.

Prendergast does not have a “line” on depression, she is simply trying to be usefully informative. Which the book is. It conveys very well the sheer variety of depression, the vile burden it imposes on sufferers and those close to them, how varied various medical and other professionals can be in helping (or not) sufferers. Treatments which work miracles for some have absolutely no effect (or even make it worse) for others. About six per cent of sufferers do not respond to any treatment.

Depression cuts you off from the world. It can be so damaging that it frustrates attempts to help, or even reach, the sufferer. It often comes without warning, for no apparent reason. It can lift just as suddenly. It is often highly treatable: but finding the effective treatment for a specific person can be very much trial and error.

All this Understanding Depression conveys very effectively. It is a book that completely lives up to its title.

Internet resources:
Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill (ARAFMI)
Beyond Blue
Black Dog Institute
Blue Pages
GROW National
Living is for Everyone (LIFE)
Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia

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