Book Review – Overcoming Depression
Review Written by Casey Douglass
If you suffer from depression you are far from alone. Depression is very common, affecting over 300 million people around the world. Written by Professor Paul Gilbert, internationally recognised for his work on depression, this highly acclaimed self-help book has been of benefit to thousands of people including sufferers, their friends and families, and those working in the medical profession. This fully revised third edition has been extensively updated and rewritten to reflect over ten years of new research on understanding and treating depression, particularly the importance of developing compassionate ways of thinking, behaving and feeling. It contains helpful case studies and new, easy-to-follow, step-by-step suggestions and exercises to help you understand your depression and lift your mood.
It occurred to me recently that even though I’ve read countless books on anxiety, OCD, CBT and other topics, I’ve not read nearly so many on the topic of depression. As someone who dips into depression with some regularity, I’m not sure why this use for dead trees has eluded my book collection. After a particularly crappy few weeks, weeks in which my usual health struggles were added to by a creeping despair that left even the posting of a tweet seemingly beyond me, I decided to look for a book on depression that might prove useful. I saw that the Overcoming series of books seems to be highly recommended, and as luck would have it, it was the Overcoming Depression flavour of the book that I opted for one drizzly day in Waterstones. There were others on the shelf that seemed like they might be worth considering, another one mentioned mindfulness and had a suitably nature-based cover, but I’ve had my fill of mindfulness-based books for this year at least, maybe more. That being said, Overcoming Depression: A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques does feature mindfulness, but along with a heck of a lot of other things.
A few pages shy of 600, it’s no brief flirtation with the subject, but an in-depth look at the many sides to depression: what can cause it, the purpose it might serve, how we can start to leave the depressive state and other issues that might just have a bearing too, such as how other emotions and feelings like anger and shame play their part. An early chapter looks at how evolution might have shaped our minds for depression, and how the things that happen to us in the modern day might hook into these old brain systems. This is particularly fascinating with regards to the purpose depression might have served in the earliest times of humanity, when a poor cave-person’s emotions might have been such that they went to the back of the cave and stayed there until things improved enough to come out again. The book says that viewing depression in this way is far more useful than simply viewing it as a disease.
As you might expect from a book with so many pages, it doesn’t stop there. It looks at the social and psychological aspects of depression too, before heading into the issue of what the relationship between our thoughts and feelings really is like, and how depression can skew our thoughts to a more pessimistic or rigid point of view on life. This naturally then leads us into the next section of the book, which deals with how the reader might be able to begin to cope with having a mind that is working this way. Mindfulness is described here, and also the practice of being compassionate, to yourself and others, as well as why we might want to try this and what benefits it will bring us and the people around us. It is in this section that the book goes into the depressive styles of thinking, pointing out that we often view the world in unhelpful ways, such as with all-or-nothing thinking, acting as if we “know” what other people are thinking about us, over-generalization, and others that will be familiar to anyone that has read about, or been treated with, cognitive behavioural therapy.
One of the biggest takeaways I had from the book was an improved understanding of the various emotion systems that regulate our minds. Coming from an anxiety background I was fully aware of the nervous system and how the sympathetic and parasympathetic sides of it play their part in our fight-or-flight and the rest-and-digest responses. Overcoming Depression added a third state to this duo, the drive and achievement system, the one behind our vitality and urge to do things. Depression disrupts the balance between these three systems, leading us to experience far more threat-linked feelings and fewer positive emotions such as happiness and contentment. The book, as you work through it, describes the ways that activating our contentment/rest system, via compassion meditation and other exercises, can help us to restore a more healthy balance in these three areas, also suggesting ways we can tackle our lack of motivation and the issues that come along as part of it.
Paul Gilbert writes in a warm and friendly manner, and does a very decent job of conveying a whole range of information in a clear way. I didn’t really expect to find anything particularly new or groundbreaking between the book’s covers but I came away with a few new tidbits of information and a decent understanding of things through the focussed lens of an author who clearly knows his subject and how to explain it. I can fully imagine myself referring to this book again and again as I try to internalise more and more of what he says, in an effort to manifest changes in my own life. If you suffer with depression, or know someone that does, Overcoming Depression: A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques is well worth buying and I’d definitely give it 5/5.
Overcoming Depression bookcover Image © Copyright Constable & Robinson
Book Title: Overcoming Depression: A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques
Author: Paul Gilbert
Publisher: Constable & Robinson