Essentially a self-help book for ordinary people who may be looking for ways to overcome depression, Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D.’s Depression Is Contagious also offers those in the mental health world practical tools for their professional kits. In his book, Yapko introduces the reader to the psychological theory of “positive psychology,” explains why he views depression as a disease of faulty relationships, and offers useful exercises for people to change their thinking and thereby change their mood. If depression is truly a social disease spreading around the world, as Yapko postulates in the book’s subtitle, then the prescription he offers in this book should be added to everyone’s drinking water!
This book strategically comes onto the scene at a point when antidepressants are falling under tough scrutiny and hard times. Reports of their inefficacy, shady approval processes, and even harm filter through the news, professional journals, and into our daily searches. Type in “antidepressants” on YouTube.com and you will find thousands of video clips with most exposing some danger of these drugs. Granted, we cannot believe everything we see on YouTube, but the sheer volume of these entries and the hundreds of thousands of audience views points to a public awakening. Clearly the cat is out of the bag: antidepressants are not the panacea many assume and many more hope, and it appears they may even be a sinister part of the problem.
If modern medicine cannot offer a workable or safe solution, where does a person struggling with depression turn? Yapko has us look no further than our own thinking and behavior. The beauty of his approach to depression relief is that it is harmless and testable by anyone. The results are largely subjective, although Yapko does briefly point to brain imaging techniques that help verify the efficacy of his approach. Honestly, though, when people are depressed, do they really care if better mental health can be quantified scientifically? No, they just want to feel better!
Depression Is Contagious starts out slowly, a bit heavy with generalities and unsubstantiated claims. Not one usually to care for a lot of statistics and references, I found myself often wondering where Yapko was getting his facts. Rather quickly, though, Yapko kicks it into high gear and brings the reader up to speed on his social theory of depression, defining his cognitive behavioral approach to treatment, employing insight exercises, and offering contrasts with other depression treatments. Yapko obviously knows his subject, and, I am only guessing here, might be personally acquainted with depression and the power of his exercises to heal a hurting soul.
Yapko’s writing style is reminiscent of Dale Carnegie’s in probably the most well-known self-help book of all-time, the 1936 blockbuster How to Win Friends and Influence People. Both Yapko and Carnegie employ an easy, conversational tone and offer frequent short narratives of people and situations that illustrate the points being made. Yapko does an excellent job of follow-through with his promises to elaborate on a subject further along in the book. Short and easy exercises are sprinkled throughout the chapters. In this way, Depression Is Contagious has a workbook feel to it but does not get bogged down in exercises like other self-help books I have come across.
Yapko lays the foundation for his theory of depression being a social disease by providing the reader with a primer on cognitive behavioral theories. In a nutshell, he posits, “We are what we think.” And what we think influences how we behave. By extension, how we behave influences how others react to us. How others react to us influences how we feel about ourselves. One starts to see the circular effect of our thinking and social lives.
Yapko talks a lot about frame of reference and how it influences for better or worse the view people have of themselves and others. A good amount of time is spent detailing rumination as one of the big bad boys that will spiral a person right down into a depressive funk. He introduces the reader to the concept of compartmentalization and how it can build a “wall of health.” He debunks the pervasive assumption that self-love is a necessary building block for positive emotional health, pointing out that self-love “doesn’t teach tolerance of other people,…doesn’t teach empathy or compassion or frustration tolerance or impulse control.” All of these traits are key for positive social connections. Positive social connection is the key to Yapko’s approach to stave off or remedy depression.
I highly recommend reading Depression Is Contagious. There is not a person around, depressed or not, who cannot benefit from understanding and employing Yapko’s approach. His exercises and suggestions are practical and accessible to all. Tackling depression from a cognitive/behavioral/social level gives control of one’s life back to each person and provides immediate feedback and relief. Yapko is advocating for personal power to change our lives for the better. And, just think, depression relief with no waiting for appointments, no adjusting doses, and no negative side effects! Now that is an effective prescription!
Depression Is Contagious
By Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D
Free Press: September 2009
Hardcover, 256 pages