How to Stop Feeling So Damn Depressed: The No BS Guide for Men by psychologist Jonas A. Horwitz is a how-to guide for men 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. It didn’t 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. Maybe most of the book’s audience won’t be aware of this distinction, but 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 who you are as a person and lies to you in order to feed itself. You can starve it by not engaging in the behaviours that it pushes you to do. This metaphor is leaned on heavily. Some of the ideas it incorporates aren’t exactly true in a literal sense, but the book doesn’t make this clear. This could potentially result in readers making some inaccurate assumptions.
Some information in the book is 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’s a central nervous system depressant, which isn’t the same thing as a direct mood depressant, which 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 isn’t going to have that significant an effect. 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 it can decrease testosterone levels, leading to “man boobs” (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. This should ideally involve 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 (CBT), including 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.
How To Stop Feeling So Damn Depressed is available on Amazon (affiliate link).
I received a reviewer copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.