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?

The books I picked & why

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Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong

By Tim Cantopher,

Book cover of Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong

Why 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.

Underneath the Lemon Tree: A Memoir of Depression and Recovery

By Mark Rice-Oxley,

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

Why 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.

I Had a Black Dog

By Matthew Johnstone,

Book cover of I Had a Black Dog

Why 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.

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

By Linda Gask,

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

Why 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.

Skating To Antarctica

By Jenny Diski,

Book cover of Skating To Antarctica

Why 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in depression, major depressive disorder, and Antarctica?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about depression, major depressive disorder, and Antarctica.

Depression Explore 53 books about depression
Major Depressive Disorder Explore 16 books about major depressive disorder
Antarctica Explore 30 books about Antarctica

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Not Today, Celeste!: A Dog's Tale about Her Human's Depression, and Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness if you like this list.