"Breakdowns are preposterous" writes Andrew Solomon in his wide-ranging and illuminating study, The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression
. With the current vogue for self-help books, medication doled out at the drop of a hat, and therapy-speak, it would seem that depression is a modern phenomenon, a reaction to the stresses of a consumerist, high-achieving world. Yet as Solomon explains, the word " depression" was "first used in English to describe low spirits in 1660"; prior to this time, the vagaries of the unquiet mind were termed "melancholia". Bravely cataloguing his own series of depressive episodes, Solomon attempts to go to the roots of the illness--for an illness it is, and has to be treated as such--by interviewing fellow sufferers, delving back into history ("the history of depression in the West is closely tied to the history of Western thought")--analysing suicide, addictions, treatments, and depression's underlying causes, from politics to poverty. At the heart of this informed, compassionate book lies Solomon's own story--an established writer with seemingly everything going for him, he succumbed to a series of breakdowns in his 31st year, and eventually rallied with the support of his father, other family members and friends, a good therapist and a shopping list of medications, which he still takes daily. Out of his depression emerged qualities of self he never knew existed, and a desire to "find and cling to the reasons for living". Solomon's dark night of the soul, on a par with Lewis Wolpert's Malignant Sadness
is a significant and important chronicle. Between 10 and 15 per cent of Americans and up to 6 million people in the UK experience depression; books like The Noonday Demon
might just broaden our understanding of it. --Catherine Taylor
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Like Primo Levi's The Periodic Table, The Noonday Demon digs deep into personal history, as Andrew Solomon narrates, brilliantly and terrifyingly, his own agonising experience of depression. Solomon also portrays the pain of others, in different cultures and societies whose lives have been shattered by depression and uncovers the historical, social, biological, chemical and medical implications of this crippling disease. He takes us through the halls of mental hospitals where some of his subjects have been imprisoned for decades; into the research labs; to the burdened and afflicted poor, rural and urban. He talks to faith healers and voyages around the world in a quest for folk wisdom. He analyses the medications of today as well as reviewing the politics of diagnosis and treatment and, perhaps most significantly, he looks at the vital role of will and love in the process of recovery.