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15 Best books on overcoming depression in 2021
Depression is not always easy to get over. It has a nasty tendency to recur sometimes when we’re not vigilant. Therapy can be costly, but fortunately, there is a less expensive solution: bibliotherapy. Bibliotherapy is just a fancy way of saying reading books to make yourself feel better. Sometimes the books are specifically written to help you get over depression. Other times, they there are books that simply cheer you up in one way or another, either by being funny or distracting or appealing to you and making you feel less alone.
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This article touches on each of these types of bibliotherapy, but the main focus here is on books that help you to overcome depression in a direct way. To that end, this article culminates in 15 books that can help you to overcome depression.
Remember that everyone is different. It’s a cliché because it’s true. A book that is extremely helpful for one person might be less helpful for the next person. And that’s okay. Keep looking for answers until you find something that’s helpful for you. That’s one of the biggest frustrations when you’re depressed. The last thing you want to do is go out looking for answers, but how are you going to get better otherwise? And you might be asking yourself what the point of getting better is, and I hope you’re not asking yourself that, but if you’re depressed you might be asking yourself that. And the point is that getting better feels better.
That probably sounds insanely obvious, but sometimes when we feel bad for a long time, we forget that it is even possible to feel good. We forget that it’s even possible to feel okay let alone good. And then it’s hard to motivate ourselves to try to feel better. It’s hard to motivate ourselves to take action on our own behalf. I hope you do take action on your own behalf. Sometimes it takes trying 100 different things before you find the one thing that works.
And sometimes it takes 20 or 30 different things working together in order to help you to stay well. If that’s your truth, I hope you find those 20 or 30 different things. I hope you realize that it’s worth finding those 20 or 30 different things.
And this is an article about bibliotherapy, but I always feel like I would be remiss if I don’t mention exercise. I am a person who does not like exercise. I’m not fond of exercise. I am the opposite of a fitness fanatic. However, I have read a lot of scientific papers about depression. And pretty much all of them agree that medication can be helpful for some people in some cases, and talk therapy can also be helpful for some people in some cases. However, exercise seems to be universally helpful for most people in most cases. Always check with your doctor of course. I don’t know what your personal health is like and I’m not a doctor. The evidence strongly shows that exercise helps in a way that nothing else seems to help. And so I feel like I should mention it.
That being said, often, people need a boost before they’re ready to exercise. Sometimes, when people are depressed, the last thing they want to do is exercise. Even if a person is 100% convinced that it would be the best thing for them, it is really hard to find the motivation.
Bibliotherapy can be very helpful in providing that boost, that motivation. It can help you to figure out how to reframe your negative thought patterns, how to look at life in a different way. We were all raised in a certain way, and sometimes it’s hard to break free from that way of thinking. Books about depression can often provide a gateway that helps us to begin to break away from old patterns of thinking.
We start to see things in a new light. At first, things might seem very dark or gray. And then gradually, those clouds start to part. Our life once again takes on a full spectrum of colors.
The nice thing about modern life is that bibliotherapy can take the form of a book, an ebook, or an audiobook. And, often, when you might not feel the motivation to read a book, you might be able to feel the motivation to play an audiobook. And you might not feel like you’re really paying attention the way that you should be if you really want to drink it all in. Ideally, when you’re doing bibliotherapy, it would be great to have a notebook and a pen and really invest in the process.
Nevertheless, meet yourself where you are right now. If you don’t have the motivation to use a notebook and pen and invest in the bibliotherapy process at the moment, just play an audiobook in the background. Let it wash over you. You can always play it a second time later on with a notebook and pen in hand if you want to. You don’t have to.
Be kind to yourself. Half the problem when we’re depressed is a problem of being cruel to ourselves. So, when you are reading a book about depression, cut yourself some slack. And if you find that you do not like the book or you totally disagree with the book or it just doesn’t fit for you, get a different book. And if you try a few different books including audiobooks and it’s still not working for you, it might just not be the right type of therapy for you.
It can be an amazing therapy for some people. And if you’re one of those people, books about depression can be an economical and very effective way to learn about and deal with depression. For other people, it might be less helpful.
Another use for books about depression is if you happen to have a family member or a close friend who suffers from depression. It can be very helpful to understand what they’re going through. However, don’t turn yourself into their therapist. Even if you are a therapist.
Someone once asked me what a depressed person really needs when they are in the depths of the worst depression. What they need is for someone to be physically present with them unless they ask for that person to leave. They might not want to talk, and that’s okay. If you want to be physically present with them, you might want to bring a book, knitting, crochet, crossword puzzles. That’s one of the difficulties with being extremely depressed. It’s very isolating, and yet often people who are depressed don’t really feel like socializing.
Anyhow, I digress. Onwards to the bibliotherapy…
What is bibliotherapy?
One of the best ways to overcome depression and work on your emotional health is to read good books about depression. Books offer advice, comfort, solace, and information that can be crucial to recovery from depression. This article provides a list of some of the best books about depression. Reading self-help books about depression as part of your therapy is called “bibliotherapy,” which is therapy that comes from books. Bibliotherapy is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique, and a commonly recognized way to treat depression. It works best for a certain type of person, someone who learns well from books (or audiobooks).
There are a large number of books about depression, but not all of them are therapeutic to read. In other words they don’t all actually make you feel better.
Contents of this article on books about depression:
- How to do Bibliotherapy
- Another type of bibliotherapy
- The 15 best books about depression:
- Books about depression: Workbooks
- Bibliotherapy: fiction for people who are depressed
For example, the book, The Noonday Demon, by Andrew Solomon is an excellent book about what it is like to be depressed. Andrew Solomon’s book has won well-deserved prizes. It is very well-written and interesting. He has struggled with depression, and his real life story of the experience of severe depression and what it is like to be mentally ill is at times very inspirational. It is a great book about the experience of depression. However, in my opinion it is not a therapeutic book for people who themselves are currently immersed in the challenges of mental illness.
In fact I believe it can be the opposite for a large number of people. Although some might find comfort in knowing that they are not alone in the often crushing despair of depression, some others might find that having it described in painstaking detail only reminds them of their suffering and keeps them “stuck”. I would highly recommend Andrew Solomon’s “The Noonday Demon” to friends and family of someone who is depressed! It is great for understanding what a depressed person experiences, but not one of the best books about depression for therapeutic purposes. (continued…)
How to do Bibliotherapy:
You can work your way through a self-help book any way you like. However, there are some ways to read books about depression that are more likely to be helpful. If the self help book is not a workbook, I recommend getting a journal and writing down thoughts and ideas that occur to you after each reading session. Specifically, what did you learn? How do you think it could apply to your life? If you are seeing a counsellor, you can take these notes to your therapy session to discuss them in more detail.
Sometimes, it is a good idea to read books about depression through once quickly without stopping and then a second time more slowly, taking time to make notes, jot down ideas, and to reflect on how the material affects you. By reading books on depression twice, you can be sure you fully grasp the messages in the book.
Even if you really disagree with or hate something that you read, that is good information. Why? Well, first, it can give you (and your counsellor) an idea of what does NOT work for you. However, also, sometimes when something makes us feel very strongly, that is a sign that we are resistent to a new idea because we find it threatening in some way.
Try to be open to the idea that when a new idea upsets you, it might be because it is actually true for you, but you are not quite ready to face up to it yet. That is why writing down your response to books about depression can be helpful. It is also important to be true to yourself and if an idea really feels wrong, to feel free to reject it. I am suggesting that, before you reject it, you consider the possibility that it is an uncomfortable truth. However, obviously, that is not always the case. Not all therapeutical depression books have the same types of ideas about depression or how to treat it, so please be persistent and find what works for you.
Another type of bibliotherapy
The next section lists the best books about depression. However, there is another type of bibliotherapy, which is fiction books that help with depression because they have a cheering effect on the mind. Although they do not address depression directly, such books have a positive and often humorous outlook on life without completely glossing over life’s problems. After the following section about books about depression, there is a section listing fiction for people who are depressed. These books will not magically cheer someone up, but they can provide a welcome distraction, demonstrate a different outlook, and therefore be part of a person’s recovery process. They are great books for people who are not depressed too.
The 15 best books about depression:
- The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness – This is one of the best books about depression. I highly recommend this book. It is about using mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to overcome depression. That may sound complicated, but it is really not. Its roots are in centuries old Eastern wisdom, but explained in a modern and relevant way. Personally, my favorite format of this book is the CD only or Audible version because I think that, for many depressed people, it might be easier to just listen to a book than to read one (By the way: try Audible now and get two Free audiobooks (affiliate link – you normally just get one)). If you only buy one book about depression, buy this one since it is probably one of the most insightful and helpful mental health books I have read.
- How to Heal Yourself from Depression When No One Else Can: A Self-Guided Program to Stop Feeling Like Sh*t by Amy Sher (February, 2021) This is a more unconventional approach to healing from depression, but it is also empowering, and often, that is
what people who are depressed need the most.
- Keys to Unlocking Depression: An Internationally Known Depression Expert Tells You What You Need to Know to Overcome Depression by Michael Yapko. I also recommend Breaking the Patterns of Depression also by Michael Yapko. I am excited about this new book about depression because it is very short and delivers only the essential elements that a person needs to recover from depression.
- The Illustrated Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris – This book uses ACT (Acceptance and Commitment therapy) to help you overcome depression. ACT therapy has to do with developing mindfulnesss, and learning how to be flexible while also defining and living in terms of your personal values. In a nutshell.
- The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns. This book is one of the classic books about depression and anxiety and I have read it several times. I highly recommend this book. It explains cognitive behavioral therapy methods and has a lot of wisdom to offer. It is particularly helpful for those in a mild to moderate depression. Other good books about depression by David Burns include:
- Feeling Great: The Revolutionary New Treatment for Depression and Anxiety (2020) – his newest book (at the time I am writing this)
- Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy
- Ten Days to Self-Esteem (a workbook)
- Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky. This is one of the best known books about depression. It provides clinically proven strategies to help manage your mind and the distress that can sometimes take over and cause havoc in your life.
- The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb. This book has been well-reviewed by critics and by people suffering from the illness of depression. Based on the latest neuroscience research, this book provides straightforward everyday tips for rewiring your brain and creating an “upward spiral” towards a happier, healthier life.
- The Depression Cure: The 6 Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs by Stephen S. Ilardi. While I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking medication when it is needed, this book offers some alternatives. To some people these will seem obvious and trite, but to others, they will be profound and life-changing. Ilardi basically suggests that there are six ancient lifestyle elements that we tend to be lacking in the frenzied pace of modern life and that by returning to those basics, we can overcome depression. There is quite a bit of scientific evidence to back this up.
- How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad): A Creative Workbook by Lee Crutchley. This book about depression has a more whimsical approach to overcoming depression. It is described as “by turns a workbook, trusted friend, creative outlet, security blanket, and secret diary”. This is designed to help readers view things in a new way, and rediscover simple pleasures and everyday joy.
- Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthough Program to End Negative Behavior…and Feel Great Again by Jeffrey Young. This book is the classic layperson’s guide to schema therapy and it can be very helpful in identifying your patterns of behavior. Jeffrey Young literally invented schema therapy, and it can be life-altering. Written in 1994, the book is a bit dated in some respects, but the fundamentals remain unchanged.
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Although technically, this is not a book about depression, this is an excellent resource for creative people who are depressed. In this now-famous book, Julia Cameron has come up with a way for artists to recover themselves one step at a time.
- The CBT Toolbox: a Workbook for Clients and Clinicians by Jeff Riggenbach. This one sounds technical, and in a way it is. It uses cognitive behavioral therapy to teach you how to overcome unhealthy life patterns, providing fresh and proven approaches to help overcome depression. Even though this book is not just about depression, I think it is one of the best books about depression because it is in a workbook format and it is when you get your “feet wet” actually doing exercises and writing that you start to really benefit from bibliotherapy. That is what this book encourages. Interestingly, people who read this site order this book more than any other one.
- Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders by Robert Leahy, Stephen Holland, and Lada McGinn. This is one of the books about depression that is geared mainly towards therapists, and it is a little more expensive, but it is packed with “tools for treating the most common clinical problems encountered in outpatient mental health practice”. Besides basic information on depression and the six major anxiety disorders, step-by-step instructions for evidence-based assessment and intervention are provided along with illustrative case examples. The book and CD also include reproducable handouts and forms.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: 7 Ways to Freedom from Anxiety, Depression, and Intrusive Thoughts (Happiness is a trainable, attainable skill!) by Lawrence Wallace is a number one bestseller in adolescent psychiatry. Many books about depression are written by people who have studied depression, but have not actually lived it. The author of this book is a former sufferer of both anxiety and depression. This book shows us how to learn the skill of happiness by being compassionate to ourselves using the tools of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Hardcore Self Help: F**k Depression (Volume 2) by Robert Duff is one of the newest and most popular books about depression. It is “Volume 2” because “Volume 1” was his book about anxiety. Dr. Duff prides himself on being able to distill the information, tips, and insights that he gleaned as a psychologist and to translate this into plain English. He considers this the no psychobabble self-help book for people that don’t usually like self-help books. He explains why you have literally no energy or motivation. He tells you why people are so terrible at offering help. And best of all, Dr. Duff offers solutions: he explains how to take realistic steps toward solving the many issues caused by depression.
Those are some very good books about depression. They can be helpful with a wide variety of depression-related problems including eating disorders, etc., but the focus is on depression, even severe depression. If you know of other excellent books, please write about them in the comments section below. There are, of course, many other books about depression, but I wanted to boil this list down to the very best books that would be most helpful to someone who is suffering from this illness.
Books about depression: Workbooks
This section contains a list of depression workbooks. Depression workbooks can be an excellent way to break through depression in small, manageable steps.
- The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression: A Step-by-Step Program by William J. Knaus & Albert Ellis. This depression workbook includes a bonus of twenty five tips from depression experts to help you on the road to recovery. This highly recommended depression workbook will allow you to return from the darkness of depression, one carefully crafted step at a time.
- The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress by John Teasdale, Mark Williams, and Zindel Segel. This 8-week program of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can help you overcome depression, anxiety, and stress. You will learn new ways to respond to your thoughts and feelings. MBCT has been scientifically proven to be effective in clinical trials all over the world. By working through this carefully constructed depression workbook, you can now reap the benefits of MBCT any time, any place. This book on overcoming depression guides you step by step along the path of change.
Bibliotherapy: fiction for people who are depressed
As I mentioned earlier, another type of bibliotherapy is fiction that is light and enjoyable without glossing over life’s troubles. These books are the type of feel good reads that are likely to get your thoughts spinning in a positive direction without being superficial.
- The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
- The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
There are really three types of bibliotherapy or books to help with depression. The first is what I suggest in this article, which is to read self-help books that are books about depression and how to overcome it. This can be a very productive way to help yourself emerge from a depression. Many of these excellent books about depression are available in audiobook format as well, so if you don’t feel up to reading, that is an option.
The second type of books to help with depression are books, whether fiction or non-fiction, about people who have gone through depression themselves. Some people find this to be extremely therapeutic while others find it even more depressing. To my way of thinking, this is good for the family and friends of those who are depressed because it helps them to understand what the experience of depression is like.
Lastly, some books help with depression because these books offer a cheering effect on the mind even though they might not address depression directly. One such series is The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall-Smith. I recommend it highly to anyone, whether you are depressed or not. There is something uplifting about this series. Reading books such as the ones in this series, books that lift your mood, is another form of bibliotherapy, and I will be writing an article about books such as these that help lift your mood in the near future.
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