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Anxiety Disorders
Bipolar Disorder

by Tessa Wigney, Kerrie Eyers and Gordon Parker (Editors)
Allen & Unwin, 2008
Review by Katie Tattershaw on Aug 12th 2008

Journeys with the Black Dog

Journeys With The Black Dog is a book that uses a variety of personal accounts to show us the points of view of people who have experienced depression and of the friends and families who have cared for them The people who contributed to the book were aged between 14 and 70yrs.Some stories include people reflecting back on past experience of depression and noticing how much they have learnt, while others describe current feelings.  It highlights how common depression is with people disclosing their feelings and discovering they aren't the only ones who have felt this way. The book is hopeful, encouraging people to seek help and explains ways for them to regain control. It focuses on the positive side of coming out of depression and finding joy at small things.

It covers so many different topics which makes us see what a huge area depression is. Accounts range from mild to moderate depression through to bipolar and catatonic depression and suicidal feelings. People's accounts of medication went against the misconception that this is a cure and promotes understanding that medication isn't the only thing that changes our brain chemistry, but also how we behave, how we think and what we eat and drink is very important to alter in the battle against depression.

Chapter 8 was based on carers' accounts. As you read you see the highs and lows, families coming closer together or being torn apart and spouses sheltering their children from the experience. An account from a 14-year-old carer was particularly eye opening showing the maturity and strength of young carers. The important thing promoted in this chapter was the need to give forgiveness to the person who is depressed as they are  not always in control of words and actions.

As you read you are taken through a journey of emotions: denial, detachment, humor ("my sofa deserves an Oscar for best supporting furniture in a clinically depressed episode"), relief for some when they have a diagnosis and shock for others ("I don't have time to be ill"). The book appears to conclude patience and acceptance is needed to recognize depression as a journey of self discovery and self management.

At times there is a lot to take in due to the variety of topics but the advice given is useful and realistic -- for example "baby steps forwards" "one single achievement every day is a start." "anything is better than nothing" One of the main messages the book highlights is the importance of support networks to the recovery process including professionals, friends and family. We all know socializing can be extremely difficult if someone is depressed but the book helps things seems more achievable by the suggestion of "the need to stay connected in some form whether its by email, text, letter or phone"

Due to the amount of people who contributed to the book the style of language varies with some accounts more complex than others, which may be a struggle for younger readers. However some people used analogies that helped to explain certain points. The use of the term 'black dog' to describe depression compared to the term 'blue dog' to describe a time when we are grieving or under stress helped to enforce how depression was different to feeling unhappy.

The book helps to destigmatize depression by describing it as the common cold of the mind ("all people should be aware that the possibility is there for this to happen to any one of them") It shows us we cant remove the risk factor of developing depression any more than we can eliminate catching a cold but with some self-help techniques and some useful advice people can minimize the effects of depression.

This is a good book to buy for anyone whose life has been affected by depression. It could be useful for those who have been feeling low for a short time or are reflecting back and wanting to learn from the experience. If the depression has a long history, the book may best be used as part of a package as some concepts could be difficult to grasp just by reading; for example "your self worth is not dependent on how others see you or how they react to you". "You cant change how others respond but you can control your own emotions." It may be quite hard to believe these things if the depression is deeply entrenched and it would be better helped with a therapist.

With these accounts echoing the achievement of greater insight and self-knowledge, this book gives people hope that their feelings will pass and they will get through.

© 2008 Katie Tattershaw

Katie Tattershaw is a Graduate Mental Health Worker in the UK working in primary care running Self Help Clinics and groups helping people learn coping strategies for anxiety, depression and stress.