Depression - a book recommendation
My favourite piece of writing on depression is William Styron’s “Darkness Visible” (Vintage Books, 1992). A first-hand account of what it is really like to experience what Styron calls "this life-threatening illness". Clear-eyed yet beautifully written, it has been helping people feel less alone (with depression) for decades.
Styron talks of the isolation engendered by depression. However, after plenty of suicidal ideation (knives in kitchen draws tempted him) and a period of hospitalisation (which he welcomed) Styron did begin to recover.
The truth is that depression makes you feel alone – but you are not alone in feeling depressed. Almost one in five adults in the UK experience depression or anxiety (Office of National Statistics) and that is just the amount who admit to these experiences - the true figure may be higher.
It feels as if you will never recover, while the odds are that you will. Styron writes that it was the space and time that hospital afforded him that proved central to his recovery. Here, the pressure to act "normally" was removed. Not all sufferers of depression would welcome a stay in hospital but all, surely, would welcome the time and space just to be depressed.
Whether depression is an "illness" analogous to, say, pneumonia is a moot point. What matters is that the suffers of both are given respect, in addition to all the other tools for recovery they might need - medication, counselling, time, space, family support etc.
Unfortunately, depression is frequently treated as something insignificant or even shameful. "Pull yourself together" and "there is nothing really wrong with you" might not be spoken to your face. But words like these sound in the minds of many. It is striking how little has changed, since William Styron suffered his depressive episode, thirty years ago.
Reading Styron's book supports all my experience of counselling those with depression. Far from being insignificant, depression claims lives. And though you may feel shame, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Depression has causes, just like any other illness. Counselling can help you to uncover these causes, which in turn can help you in recovery. To repeat: depressed people need respect. With this – at the heart of care - a full recovery is not only possible, it is likely.
"Darkness Visible" is an invaluable read and has the added advantage of great brevity. Whether you have been engulfed by the darkness of depression or not, read every word.
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About Tom Bailey
Tom is an integrative counsellor, working in Chorlton, Manchester. His interests include helping to improve family dynamics.