Living with Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter

By Dr. Deborah Serani

Reviewed by Greg Tyzzer

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Dr. Deborah Serani’s new book, Living with Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter along the Path to Hope and Healing is a solid entry in the self-help depression book genre, once you get past the awkwardly and unnecessarily long title. Beginning with a chapter describing her own battles not only with depression, but other challenges in her life (such as postpartum depression after her first child, trying to go off of medications, etc.), it offers the kind of insight and perspective that only can come from a professional who has gone through the same battles as the patients she treats. Savor that first chapter, because it’s one of the best in the book.

After the first chapter, the author describes the basics of depression, such as how it’s diagnosed, where researchers think it may come from, and the usual treasure trove of information you’d expect to find in such a book. The third chapter runs through the common and not-so-common treatments of depression.

The fourth chapter gives the reader the “inside track” on everything from how to best deal with antidepressants and their negative side effects, to what really goes on in psychotherapy. It offers explanations about a variety of issues and myths many patients face in psychotherapy, such as Psychotherapy does not always make you feel better, Psychotherapy is not like talking to a friend and Psychotherapy will not work if you have unrealistic expectations. This chapter also covers the basics of drug discount cards and programs, and how to best navigate the U.S. healthcare system to ensure you get your treatment paid for. This chapter alone makes the book more than worthwhile for its no-nonsense advice and information about these important — but often overlooked — issues.

The next chapter, “Your Depression,” walks you through what to expect in the typical course of a person’s depressive episode. While no two people experience depression in exactly the same way, Dr. Serani uses this chapter to offer tips and practical advice about how to approach treatment and psychotherapy. While much of the advice comes her professional knowledge, it’s also solidly informed with her own direct experiences in dealing with her own depression. While some of the advice borders on the over-exposed (such as the advice to “avoid toxic people”), it’s always well-intentioned.

Chapter 6 walks the reader through the “5 R’s” of depression — response, remission, recovery, relapse and recurrence. Chapter 7 gives us a wealth of information about suicide — a topic often not covered very well in other self-help depression books. Why? Probably because it scares some people to talk about it, but suicidal thoughts are fairly common among people with depression (not to be confused with actual suicidal actions).

The next chapter describing the societal stigma that still exists in many parts of the country regarding depression is important. But I prefer the term “prejudice” nowadays, because it makes the issue more personal. However, this is a very good chapter because it prepares a person to better understand and deal with the various responses they may receive from family members, friends and coworkers whom with they share their diagnosis with. The responses can be all over the board, and this chapter is a great guide to not only better understand the reasons why, but provides some useful ideas on what a person can do about it too.

The last chapter is entitled “Living with Depression” and offers a nice bookend to the first chapter in the book, with the author describing her own personal battles in living with depression. She also relates her own personal discovery in gaining more insight into depression through reading other people’s personal accounts:

One of the most moving accounts of depression for me came from American author William Styron, whose descent into a “dank joylessness” is vividly worded in his 1990 memoir Darkness Visible. Truth be told, the movie adaption of Styron’s Sophie’s Choice left me so hollowed out and emotionally depleted, that I resisted reading his memoir for fear that it would weaken me further. What I found in his pages, however, was quite different. The textures of his experiences offered me consolation. Again, I wasn’t alone.

The book finishes on page 114, but carries on for another 85 pages of appendices. The first 14 pages is of a list of celebrities, authors and other famous people who’ve had a mood disorder. I suppose the author finds such a list both comforting and eye opening, but such lists don’t do much for me. Since most people grapple with depression at some point in their lives — to one degree or another, whether it’s a full-blown clinical depression or not — I would argue most anyone could go on that list.

Another 15 pages list depression resources and organizations that may benefit the reader. The remainder of the book is filled with notes — mostly research references from the chapters — as well as a helpful glossary.

Insight and perspective comes in droves in this book, but for me, the best chapters were the first one and the last one, in which Dr. Serani recounts her personal failures and successes in battling depression. In short, personal stories move me more than facts and data; but I’m a biased reader, since my depression knowledge is likely greater than the average layperson this book is targeted toward. My only wish was that there was more of this personal narrative throughout the entire book, because all too often the book felt like it was more of a textbook rather than a personal account intertwined with the kind of information one might expect from a depression self-help book.

Nonetheless, this is a thoughtful book about depression and would be recommended for anyone who has just been recently diagnosed with depression, or knows someone who has and wants to better understand this illness. It left me with a very real sense of hope. Because it is up-to-date and well-written, it will give you (or your loved one) everything you’ll need to know, understand and find a path toward recovery from depression.


Hardcover: 208 pages
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (May 31, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1442210567
ISBN-13: 978-1442210561
Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1 inches

Psych Central's Recommendation:
Worth Your Time! +++

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APA Reference
Tyzzer, G. (2011). Living with Depression: Why Biology and Biography Matter. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/living-with-depression-why-biology-and-biography-matter/0008624
Scientifically Reviewed
    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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