The best books to manage bloody depression

Who am I?

I’m a Brighton based writer. I’ve lived with bloody depression and frigging anxiety, since a child. I’m the founder of The Recovery Letters project, which publishes online letters from people recovering from depression, addressed to those experiencing it. It was published as a book in 2017 and Cosmopolitan named it "One of the 12 mental health books everyone should read". I also edited What I Do to Get Through: How to Run, Swim, Cycle, Sew, or Sing Your Way Through DepressionMy fourth book, How to Tell Anxiety to Sod Off, is due out in 2022.

I wrote...

How To Tell Depression to Piss Off: 40 Ways to Get Your Life Back

By James Withey,

Book cover of How To Tell Depression to Piss Off: 40 Ways to Get Your Life Back

What is my book about?

Trying to manage the range of symptoms that depression throws at you is like navigating the dark ocean floor when you are without a torch and don't know how to swim. How do you manage something that feels utterly unmanageable? How do you get through each day when depression is telling you you're a worthless lump of camel spleen? What you need is a guide. A really good one. You need to know what works and what to do.

This book gives you 40 ways to get to a better place with depression. They are born out of the author's personal experience of clinical depression and his many years of working as a counsellor helping people with their mental health. James lives with depression and knows its lies, the traps it makes and how to dodge when it starts spitting bile in your face. Nice, eh?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong

Why did I love this book?

This book saved my life. And no, I’m not exaggerating. I read it at the peak of my depression when I’d lost all hope and my emotional pain was at its peak. I spent the whole time going ‘Yes! That’s me, that’s happening to me! Thank god someone understands’. 

It is short, so that you can actually finish it. This is SO important when your concentration has evaporated due to depression. It’s written by a psychiatrist who understands what your brain is doing but also, crucially, tells you what to do and emphasises how serious this illness is.

By Tim Cantopher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Depressive Illness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'People affected by depression tell me this is the most powerful and helpful book ever written on the topic. I keep meeting people who say this book changed their lives.' - Jeremy Vine, BBC Radio 2

Do you have depression?
Firstly, stop blaming yourself.
Secondly, don't struggle on alone - read this book instead. It has helped thousands of people just like you.

Dr Tim Cantopher knows two essential truths about depression and depressive illness.

One: it's strong people who are most vulnerable to it; people whose standards are high, whose ethics are powerful, who want their lives to be…

Book cover of Underneath the Lemon Tree: A Memoir of Depression and Recovery

Why did I love this book?

What I love about this book is the journey it takes you on, from despair to hope. At the start of the book, Mark is at the height of anguish with his depression. You read about what he did to start his recovery process; what worked and what didn’t, what he did wrong and what he got right. It gives you hope that you can make a similar journey and hope is the antidote to depression because it’s the main thing it takes from you, so it’s the main thing you need to find and cling on to; even the smallest amount of hope helps.

By Mark Rice-Oxley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Underneath the Lemon Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On paper, things looked good for Mark Rice-Oxley: wife, children, fulfilling job. But then, at his 40th birthday party, his whole world crumbled as he succumbed to depression...

How many men do you know who have been through periods when their lives haven't seemed right? How badly askew were things for them? Many men suffer from depression yet it is still a subject that is taboo. Men often don't visit the doctor, or they don't want to face up to feelings of weakness and vulnerability. By telling his story, Mark Rice-Oxley hopes it will enable others to tell theirs. In…

I Had a Black Dog

By Matthew Johnstone,

Book cover of I Had a Black Dog

Why did I love this book?

Sometimes pictures express depression better than words, and that’s the case in this beautiful, powerful and hopeful little book. Depression can be hard to describe, hard to find the words to tell other people how you feel. Matthew Johnstone uses Winston Churchill’s image of depression as a black dog and in 48 pages reveals what depression can do to you. 

This book is especially good to show to your loved ones when you’re finding it hard to express the pain of your depression.

By Matthew Johnstone,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Had a Black Dog as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I Had a Black Dog says with wit, insight, economy and complete understanding what other books take 300 pages to say. Brilliant and indispensable.' - Stephen Fry

'Finally, a book about depression that isn't a prescriptive self-help manual. Johnston's deftly expresses how lonely and isolating depression can be for sufferers. Poignant and humorous in equal measure.' Sunday Times

There are many different breeds of Black Dog affecting millions of people from all walks of life. The
Black Dog is an equal opportunity mongrel.

It was Winston Churchill who popularized the phrase Black Dog to describe the bouts of depression he…

Book cover of The Other Side of Silence: A Psychiatrist's Memoir of Depression

Why did I love this book?

This book is a beautiful, inspiring weaving tale of a psychiatrist who has recurrent depression and has worked with people with depression. She doesn’t disguise how hard depression is, she doesn’t patronise, she explains depression from her personal point of view, explores what happened in her childhood, and explains a clinician’s point of view of depression. 

It’s embedded with bucket loads of empathy, compassion, and hope. You hear about the patients she’s helped and you come out feeling humbled and grateful for her telling her story. Very useful for professionals working in psychiatry and mental health but equally useful for those of us with this terrible illness.

By Linda Gask,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Other Side of Silence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.'

George Eliot, Middlemarch

Having spent her life trying to patch up the souls of others, psychiatrist Linda Gask came to realise that being an expert in depression didn't confer any immunity from it - she had to learn take care of herself, too. Artfully crafted and told with warmth and honesty, this is the story of Linda's journey, interwoven…

Skating To Antarctica

By Jenny Diski,

Book cover of Skating To Antarctica

Why did I love this book?

This isn’t a traditional travel book and not a traditional memoir about depression, but a combination of both. Her journey to Antarctica becomes a metaphor for her mental health struggles throughout her life, starting from childhood. 

What I love about this book, and her writing in general, is the dark humour, her acerbic observations and true understanding of how paralysing and perilous depression can be. She understands how painful depression is, the depths it can take you to and seeing your own darkness reflected by someone else is both comforting and validating.

By Jenny Diski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Skating To Antarctica as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'I was so absorbed by her writing it was unreal . . . I find myself hungry to find the next morsel of who Jenny was and what her life was like' EMILIA CLARKE (on Why Didn't You Just Do What You Were Told?)

This strange and brilliant book recounts Jenny Diski's journey to Antarctica, intercut with another journey into her own heart and soul . . . a book of dazzling variety, which weaves disquisitions on indolence, truth, inconsistency, ambiguousness, the elephant seal, Shackleton, boredom and over and over again memory, into a sparse narrative, caustic observation and vivid…

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