Brian P. Quinn's easily readable volume, The Depression Sourcebook, includes a few brief vignettes about famous people who have suffered from depression: Abraham Lincoln, Princess Diana, Ernest and Margaux Hemingway, Art Buchwald. The stories are not deep or detailed, and yet they answer the simple question "Am I alone?" Great reassurance can be found in the information that you're not the only one who ever felt so bad. The additional message is that you may feel like a failure because you have this disease, but in fact depression can affect the beautiful, the talented, even the funny. With such information comes some hope.
And hope is largely what Quinn's book is about. By laying out the basic facts about depression and bipolar illness, explaining what these diseases are, what they are not, how to tell if you have them, and what you might want to do about them if you do, he turns on some lights in a place where darkness, shame, confusion, and despair often reign.
In some ways, the thesis of his book is his statement in the first chapter, "If you have been in a great deal of emotional pain, you may feel relieved to hear that your suffering has a name and a treatment." He goes on to explain what some of those names and treatments are all about. What is dysthymia? Major Depression? Bipolar I and Bipolar II disorders? What are the symptoms of depression in an adolescent? What should you do if your child is displaying these symptoms? How do you know if you're really sick or just bummed out over problems at work?
He tackles the inevitable question of whether psychotherapy or medication hold out more hope for the patient. Like most professionals, he concludes that there's some value in both. He briefly describes and contrasts some of the more common types of therapy, offering the reader a bit of a head start in knowing what to look for when she is ready to seek help. He describes, in very understandable language, the most common drugs used for the treatment of mood disorders, and their known side effects.
There is also a chapter on natural compounds and alternative treatments for depression. On the whole, the author's approach is balanced and calm--he does not seem to be pushing any particular school of thought.
He does, however, say that "An exploratory approach--looking into early loss or childhood traumas--is not a good idea initially. Having someone recall and work on painful memories will cause more harm than good while he is acutely depressed." That some kinds of psychotherapy can actually increase suffering in some patients is well worth thinking about for those who desperately need some relief of their pain. And some of the most interesting information in the book follows the discussion of cognitive therapy. "There is increasing evidence," says Quinn "that intense human emotions are not mediated by conscious thoughts and beliefs . . . Moreover, there are more robust connections running from the brain structures involved in emotion to those involved in rational thought than the other way around." In other words, figuring things out and understanding our pasts might not be very helpful in making us feel better. This is a rather dramatic contradiction to some of the assumptions of the Freudian canon, and makes the curious reader want to know more. For the details of such research, though, one must go elsewhere.
The book is straightforward and well-organized, if not always smoothly written. Quinn's subjects do not always agree with his verbs, and some of his sentences are awkward. He tells us that depressed children sometimes "act badly." He never makes a decision about how to handle the pronoun referring to a hypothetical person: sometimes it's "she," sometimes "he or she," sometimes "they." ("The implication is that the depressed person is making a choice to dwell on their problems.") As a writer, Quinn probably won't win any awards. As a counselor, this Certified Social Worker and Ph.D. from Huntington, New York would probably be a gem. The Depression Sourcebook is definitely for the lay person; not for professional mental health workers. Much of its information is very basic, and would seem obvious to those with some background in the field. To those who are suffering in silence, however, and don't know where to turn, this clear and simple book can be a Godsend.
First Serial Rights © 2001 Heather Liston
Heather Liston studied Religion at Princeton University and earned a Masters degree from the NYU Graduate School of Business Administration. She is the Managing Director of the National Dance Institute of New Mexico, and writes extensively on a variety of topics. Her book reviews and other work have appeared in Self, Women Outside, The Princeton Alumni Weekly, Appalachia, Your Health and elsewhere.