The self-help section of any bookstore, whether bricks-and-mortar or online, can seem overwhelming. Depression often doesn’t have its own section, making the wading process even more confusing. Where to start? What’s worth reading? What will be useful in understanding your condition and taking action against it?
This post lists a few of the best self-help books about depression. (Note: I’m intentionally excluding personal memoirs of depression. That’s another list.) Any list will be subjective and debateable, but these are mostly acknowledged classics. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments below.
Feeling Good by David Burns
First published in 1980, revised in 1999. Even after 30+ years, Feeling Good is still my choice for the best book on depression. Burns is a pioneer in cognitive therapy (sometimes called cognitive-behavioral therapy) for depression. This approach centers on recognizing and changing the negative thought patterns that plague depression sufferers. You know that inner voice that tells you you’re a loser, a failure, lazy, doomed, etc? Burns teaches effective ways to talk back to that hateful voice. The book is full of profound insights and useful action plans.
The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns
First published in 1989, revised in 1999. The Handbook supplements Burns’ earlier Feeling Good with more action plans and worksheets. There’s a great deal of overlap across the two books, but both are definitely worth having. Research has consistently shown cognitive treatment for depression to be effective. These two David Burns books are the place to start.
Be careful if you buy a used hardcopy. The Handbook has numerous charts and xeroxable worksheets, which are obviously much less useful if a previous owner has filled them in.
Undoing Depression by Richard O’Connor
First published in 1997. The book’s subtitle, “What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You”, is misleading, since O’Connor does not oppose therapy or anti-depressant drugs. His depression website specifically recommends therapy and medication. That quibble aside, Undoing Depression is a well-written, wise, compassionate and practical book. O’Connor’s approach centers on identifying the skills and habits that keep you depressed, and replacing them with healthier skills and habits. Check out his site UndoingDepression.com for a condensed version.
Mind Over Mood by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky
First published in 1995. Subtitled “Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think”, this book takes a similar cognitive-behavioral tack as Burns, teaching depression sufferers to recognize and rebut the irrational negative thoughts that plague us. Mind Over Mood is shorter and less dense than Feeling Good, and many readers find its worksheets more straightforward and intuitive.
The Mindful Way Through Depression by Mark Williams et al
First published in 2007. Co-authors Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn recommend the practices of mindfulness (a concept rooted in Buddhism) and meditation for coping with depression. This may sound too ethereal to some, but the advice in this book is actually very practical. The authors draw on the cognitive tradition for insights into depression. The mindfulness and meditation approach can be seen as complementary to the cognitive-behavioral approach, not alternatives. I have found daily meditation to be very effective in coping with depression, and this book is a good resource.