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The author is quick the point out (and he is correct) that this book will not improve or cure depression by itself. You need professional help for that. Instead, the purpose of this book (which it magnificently addresses) is to describe what the depressed person and the depressed person's family and friends need to be doing to provide the maximum likelihood of overcoming depression. That's a reasonable promise and premise for a book on this important subject, and you can begin to overcome your ignorance (and the harm it can bring) by reading this book and acting on its advice.
First, the bad news. Depression is increasing. Worse still, the younger someone is, the more likely that the person will experience depression sometime. Even worse, many people are undiagnosed, and suffer alone with their affliction.
Second, the good news. Around 70 percent of all those suffering from depression will improve with either drug therapy or mental health treatments. Those who get both do even better.
Third, more bad news. Depression tends to recur for many people.
The voice addressing these issues is an expert one. He is a psychotherapist who runs a community health center. More importantly, he has suffered from depression himself. I doubt if you can get more direct access to what depression is all about than from Richard O'Connor. I admire his caring to share so much of his own pain with us, and respect him enormously for this gift he has given us all.
Depression is currently under reevaluation. No single paradigm seems to capture all of its elements. Undoubtedly, an improved scientific model for it will emerge. There are signs that it can have roots in disturbed relations between Mother and child, family dysfunction, possibly genetic disorders of brain chemistry (like using up seratonin too rapidly), other traumas, and poor thinking habits. Who knows what else may turn up?
Many people try to deal with this problem too much on their own. Families often put up with the depressed person's behavior, not knowing what else to do. Others reject the depressed person, which will usually make the situation worse. O'Connor lays out common sense guidelines that should make a diference: for depressed people, for those who care about them, and for those who treat them.
The author sees depression as a disease and as a social problem, "an illness to be treated professionally and a failure of adaptation that we must overcome through self-determinination." He outlines important principles for the depressed person: (1) Feel your feelings (depression is the suppression of feelings -- acknowledging those feelings often causes depression to improve). (2) Realize that nothing comes out of the blue (your depressed state has a root cause that you should look for in an event or situation). (3) Challenge your depressed thinking by questioning your assumptions, especially ones that center on meaningless perfectionism. (4) Establish priorities so that your energies go into what will be on what's most important to you. (5) Communicate as directly as possible to everyone around you. Depressed people are often poor communicators who don't get their emotional needs served. With better communication, they can experience a more supportive emotional environment. (6) Take care of your self. Learn to enjoy yourself. (7) Take and expect the right responsibility for yourself -- for your own actions. Depressed people often feel guilty about things that they have no responsibility for (like the death of a parent or the divorce of their parents). (8) Look for heroes. These role models can empower you to see the way to improve, especially if they were also depressed like Lincoln. (9) Be generous. Helping others puts your own situation into perspective. (10) Cultivate intimacy. This means letting down your defenses so people can see you as you are, and accept you for that. Depressed people often feel disgusted with their true selves, and hide that self from everyone. (11) Practice detachment. Depressed people are often overly critical and pessimistic. Seeing things in the proper perspective can heal a lot of inappropriate pain. (12) Get help when you need it. This may be the most important piece of advice since so many people do not.
The book is filled with personal examples and case studies of people the author has treated, which help make the points easier to understand.
I was astonished to realize that there is no self-help network like there is for alcoholics and those with other mental and behavioral problems. The author shares some experiences with having established such groups that can be a prototype for creating such a network in the future. I think that is an important priority for improving the mental health of our society from what this book shares.
Mental health professionals will find good advice for overcoming the parochialism of whatever discipline they originally trained in, to create links to the other treatments the depressed patients need. Those who provide therapy discussions will benefit from the author's own assessments of how therapies helped or did not help him. The therapist as caring adult is emphasized above the particular technique used.
I was fascinated by how often this book pointed out problems related to stalls that most people have such as poor communications, procrastination, misconception, disbelief, tradition, independence, purposelessness, wishful thinking, and avoidance of the unattractive. The depressed person seems to have more of these at the same time than the people I work with. Yet both groups have in common that they have not yet learned the stallbusting techniques that can improve or overcome these stalls. To some extent, the lack of understanding of how to focus our minds is one of the causes of depression in our society. So here is another reason to learn the questions and focus that can enormously improve personal and organizational effectiveness. I rate this book a 2,000 percent solution stallbuster, and hope that you will read it and apply its lessons. Whether you are depressed or not, we all will encounter depressed people and this book can make us more helpful to them.
Since reading this book, I have been greatly helped by it in understanding the depressed people I know. Following the advice here, they have made progress in moving away from depression. I am very grateful for having obtained this valuable knowledge.
Help everyone to walk, look, and feel on the bright side!
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