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Book Review - Understanding Depression
Understanding Depression
by J. Raymond DePaulo Jr., M.D. and Leslie Alan Horvitz
John Wiley & Sons, 2002
Review by Diana Pederson
Dec 28th 2002

Millions of people suffer from the devastating effects of depression.  Far too many are undiagnosed or are diagnosed but receiving little or no treatment.  Some people are choosing not to receive treatment because they simply don’t know what is available to mental health professionals today.  Understanding Depression provides family physicians, depression sufferers, and their families with an outstanding summary of what is known about depression and its treatment today.

DePaulo and Horvitz wrote this book for several reasons.  1. To provide basic information for people who may be suffering from depression. 2. Provide an in-depth understanding of depression and its treatment options for those already diagnosed with it. 3. Provide an explanation of depression and the treatment options for family members of depressed people.  4. To educate everyone with an interest in mental health.

Summary of Chapter Contents

Part 1:  Understanding Depression.

Understanding Depression contains 5 chapters.  These chapters describe what depression is like for the sufferer, what manic-depression is like, who is most at risk for developing some form of depression, how to recognize depression, and a discussion of when people develop depression.  This information is presented in a way that some victims of this disorder may be able to self-diagnosis and then seek appropriate help.  Unfortunately, most depressed people will fail to recognize themselves but family members will greatly benefit from reading this section of the book.

Part 2:  Unraveling the Secrets

Scientists are making almost daily discoveries about how our brain functions.  There is still much to learn.  The authors sum up what we do know about the brain and how it functions.  A discussion of the influence of genes on depression follows.  If more than one or two people in your family suffer this mental disorder, genes may be involved.  Scientists also know that hormones, headaches, and even heart attacks can contribute to depression.  It was particularly interesting to learn that some pain medication has turned out to be good for depression too.  Scientists are still learning how one part of our body affects the functioning of another part such as our brain.

Part 3:  Depression and Mania and Destructive Effects on the Whole Person

Either depression or manic depression is destructive of relationships.  It is extremely hard to live daily with someone who is exceptionally moody. All too often that person becomes isolated from family and friends because of their moodiness.  Some depressed people act out during depressive episodes.  Addictions to alcohol or cigarettes and other drugs, eating disorders, gambling, and even shoplifting frequently occurs during these episodes.  Others resort to self-injury during these episodes.  Health care professionals, family members, and friends need to know that failed attempts at suicide or self mutilation type behaviors is actually a serious cry for help even if the victim doesn’t recognize it themselves.  Unfortunately, a severely depressed person may commit suicide if they have received no treatment or if the attempted treatment has failed to alleviate their symptoms.  People with depression simply choose to give up because of the devastation it causes in their lives.

Part 4:  Treatments for Depression

Each chapter in this part covers a different treatment for depression.  The first chapter emphasizes the need for the depressed individual to get help.  There is no set treatment that will work for all depressed people.  It is essential to find a doctor that is prepared to help the individual over the long term since it may take some trial and error to figure out what will help each individual.  The next chapter emphasizes that getting a diagnosis of depression is the most important first step towards helping the depressed individual recover and resume a normal life.  The next two chapters discuss the use of medications in treating depression and carefully explain how each type works.  A thorough discussion of psychotherapy, sometimes called talk therapy, the use of electric shocks, light, and even magnets is then discussed.  The chapter on alternative treatments is essential reading for those considering treating themselves or a loved one with herbal medicine.  The remaining chapters provide a thorough discussion of hospitalization, returning the patient to normal living, and helping them get on with life.

Who Should Read This Book?

I’ve read many books about depression because this problem runs in my family.  In my opinion, this is the best book I’ve ever read on this subject.   The writing style throughout the book is easy to understand.  Ample illustrations are used to make sure the reader understands the information being presented.  The book is well organized and clearly meets the goals set by the authors.

If you have a family member with depression, it is essential to have this on your bookshelf.  It will provide guidance as you help that person towards recovering from this mental disease.  After observing how some mental health professionals treat patients both in outpatient and inpatient treatment facilities, I believe it should be required reading for anyone working in such a facility.


© 2002 Diana Pederson

Diana Pederson lives in Lansing, Michigan.