How to Stop Feeling so Damn Depressed: The No BS Guide for Men by psychologist Jonas A. Horwitz is a how-to guide that aims to tell men how to take on depression and win.
The author explains that this book is for men with severe depression. I found the use of the term “severe” a bit unclear as it did not seem to be used to specify a severe major depressive episode; rather, it was used to refer to a major depressive episode of any severity. It may well be that much of the audience of this book isn’t going to be aware of this distinction, but to me it still felt a bit sloppy.
The central metaphor used throughout the book is of depression as a “Beast”, an entity that is separate from you as a person and lies to you in order to feed itself. It can be starved by not engaging in the behaviours that it pushes you to do. This metaphor is leaned on heavily. Some of the ideas incorporated into it are not exactly true in a literal sense, but the book does not make this clear, which could potentially result in readers making some inaccurate assumptions.
In some parts of the book information seems to be either oversimplified or exaggerated to the point that it pushes the boundaries of accuracy. The author writes: “One of the most basic ways your Beast gets more energy is to trick you into flooding your brain with chemicals that directly cause depression. Let’s start with the most common: alcohol.” Yes, alcohol can have a negative impact on depression, but it is a central nervous system depressant, which is not the same thing as a direct mood depressant as the book implies. The author also warns that every time you drink it will make you feel “much, much worse”. While the aim here is a good one, realistically a single drink is not going to have that significant an effect, and presenting the message in this way may actually serve to weaken what is a very valid underlying argument.
There were a few things in the book that struck me as a bit gimmicky. I can be fussy about the written word, and arbitrary capitalization (e.g. Beast) is a pet peeve of mine. When talking about sleep hygiene, he referred not to one’s bedroom but one’s “cave”. In the section on alcohol, the author cautions that alcohol can decrease testosterone levels and lead to “man boobs”, i.e. gynecomastia. It seems a bit like offering up decreased breast size to warn about the dangers of anorexia nervosa.
The author focuses heavily on the importance of physical activity. He recommends that for severe depression, the most important treatment strategy is exercise, ideally 30-60 minutes per day 4-5 times per week. While exercise matters, it’s also important to be realistic and recognize the substantial limitations that depression can create. Those experiencing severe depressive episodes may feel exhausted by previously easy tasks like getting out of bed and showering. Having been in that place myself where taking a shower feels like climbing Mt. Everest, this blanket suggestion about exercise seems woefully out of touch.
While I do have a number of concerns about this book, there were certainly positives as well. The book gives a useful explanation of cognitive behavioural therapy, and gives good examples of some of the common cognitive distortions. Various other treatment options are covered, and there is a helpful section explaining what to expect from psychotherapy. The author touches on the important point that we need to address social expectations that men shouldn’t talk about their feelings.
In terms of organization, there are concise point-form summaries provided at the end of sections. My preference would have been to see the book broken down into smaller chapters, particularly given the adverse effects depression so commonly has on concentration.
Clearly I’m not the intended audience of this book. While the book states it’s for men with severe depression, I actually think it would be much more appropriate for people experiencing mild depressive episodes. Even though the beast metaphor didn’t work for me, it may resonate with some people and make it easier for them to conceptualize their depressive illness. But if you’ve ever been so weighed down by depression that dragging yourself into the shower felt like an insurmountable obstacle, this book is not for you.
I received a reviewer copy of this book from the publisher via www.netgalley.com.
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