Self-help books – do they really work?

Depression. It affects so many of us, yet so few of us admit it.

Woman looking out the window with a book in her lapI’ve been collecting books on coping with depression for what seems like forever.  For years I believed I would find the answer inside a book.

I never discussed my purchases with others. My illness was hidden away, secret, never talked about, the books, like men’s magazines in a newsagents, on a high shelf hidden amongst tomes on diet and health and fitness, particularly yoga.

Inwardly I thought that I must be an ‘odd’ person who bought books on insanity rather than fiction or celebrity memoirs.

The books remained gathering dust, only perused when I was low and felt the need to revisit some well-worn advice and inspiration. The realisation that I have stopped reading is still one of my early warning signs. I have to deal with it.

While depression takes away the pleasure of reading, seeking out solutions can be a useful way to pass time when you do not feel like socialising.

Also it is good to ‘read for health’ when well. A deep novel with a complicated plot may not be appropriate when your brain is in slow motion, but dipping in and out of self-help books can get you reading again.

The long novel is then only just round the corner.

mindfulness CDWhile waiting for a talking therapy some years ago, I was recommended books on mindfulness. At the time, I had never heard the word. I had heard of meditation and used relaxation techniques at various points in my illness but mindfulness was news to me.

Google the term these days and you’ll get a whole host of websites to browse.

Lately, I am more likely to read blogs by others who suffer depression or scour the web for up-to-date information.

So a couple of years ago, I cleared cupboards, files and bookshelves and in the midst of decluttering – another good strategy for depression – I thought I could donate my vast library of ‘depression’ books.

I visited my local library but unfortunately they only take books less than five years old, even if donated. Seems a shame to me but that’s how it is.

I thought clearing these books would be therapeutic as their presence was a constant reminder of past periods of inactivity and stunted emotions. After the librarian’s rejection, my first reaction was to bin them or even ceremoniously put them to the stake like a bad witch.

Discovering bibliotherapy

However, after hearing a doctor talk about various methods of treating depression, the subject of ‘bibliotherapy’ was mentioned. This involved the doctor giving a list of books to depressed patients to take to the library.

This was a revelation as I realised my strategy was not as ‘odd’ as I had thought. My own GP definitely did not subscribe to this theory.

Suddenly I didn’t feel an ‘odd ball’ any more. I could give myself permission to buy or borrow a book and attempt some re-education to improve my mental health. If doctors and therapists recommend books then, far from viewing myself as a failure for needing such literature, I can feel good about it.

Book called Full Catastrophe LivingAnd so that is why soon after the ‘bibliotherapy’ talk, I cleared my bookshelves of all my old ‘mad’ books – they filled a large carrier bag – and took them to my local depression support group.

Before the evening ended many had been gratefully snapped up. I walked home empty handed feeling happy that others may be helped by books that were only gathering dust.

What about charity shops? From experience I know that the chances of the books reaching the right people if donated to a charity shop were slim.

Most of mine are well thumbed and some have brown tinges on the leaves. These would most certainly find themselves dumped in a recycling bag out the back of the shop and never see the light of day in the living rooms of the depressed and anxious.

Mind over moodSo which books did I donate? Some examples are Living in the Light by Shakti Gawain, Overcoming Depression by Paul Gilbert, The Book of the Mind, Raj Persaud, Why Am I Up, Why Am I Down (Understanding Bi-Polar, Roger and Elizabeth Granet, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison.

But I did not take them all. Some are my security blanket. Books that I have kept are Full Catastrophe Living, and Wherever You Go, There you Are, both by Jon Kabat-Zinn, highly recommended by psychotherapists.

I also have Dr Gillian McKeith’s You Are What You Eat and a simple guide to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy by Dr Stephen Briers.

However, with so much information on the internet and my prolonged recovery, these too will be finding their way to the support group.

One book I have often borrowed from the library but, for cost reasons, do not possess, is Mind Over Mood, (changing how you feel by changing the way you think). This is a self-help guide based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a way of changing the way you think and behave to help you manage your issues.

A good tip if you are struggling with depression or debilitating mood swings is to reserve books through your local library. It’s much cheaper than buying, and you can return them when you’re done.

Books are an amazing part of our lives, and can be such a source of comfort during depression. So never be ashamed to turn to them for advice and guidance during difficult times…

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Di Castle

About Di Castle

I am a writer living in Swanage. Born and bred in Hertfordshire, I always had a love of words, writing as soon as I could hold a pen. My sister is profoundly deaf and I have a passionate interest in raising deaf awareness. After my youngest daughter went to school I began a career teaching in Further Education, while collecting a hoard of unfinished manuscripts. Later, my writing took precedence and, since becoming a regular attendee at the Winchester Writers' Conference, I have enjoyed success in their competitions gaining two first prizes and highly commended awards for articles on a range of subjects. I began blogging in 2012 and as well as issues surrounding deafness I blog on mental health, dyslexia, writing and anything topical that stirs me to fire up the computer. You can read my blogs here: My poetry collection, Grandma’s Poetry Book, was self-published by Matador in November 2014. I have other books in progress and there is interest from agents in my memoir of growing up with a deaf sibling. Before moving to Swanage in 2001, I enjoyed a nomadic existence in Oxfordshire, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and South Bucks. I live close to my partner, Bryan, in a Victorian building overlooking Swanage Bay with views towards Bournemouth and Old Harry Rocks. I have three daughters and seven grandchildren.