It’s that time of year, when even the most mentally healthy of individuals find themselves falling under the dark cloud of seasonal affective disorder. For those of us, like myself, that suffer from depression and other related illnesses year round, the dark days of winter can exacerbate our symptoms. Lack of daylight aside, the holidays can be cruel to people. I’ve compiled a list of self-help books for depression to help you cope, be it seasonal or otherwise. My personal experience lends me a small bit of expertise on the subject; 2017 marked my fifteenth year of (knowingly) battling depression and anxiety. It sucks.
Remember, though, while self-help books for depression are a great addition to mental health care, and provide a great introduction to coping techniques and strategies, they cannot replace a licensed medical professional’s advice and counseling. Never try to tackle your depression beast alone. Seek help from trusted friends and family, find a doctor or therapist you feel comfortable with, and remember you do not have to suffer in silence or alone. What works for one person may not work for everybody, don’t feel discouraged if the suggestions in these, or any, self-help books for depression don’t resonate with you. Finally, if the days ever get particularly unbearable please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
I talk about this book all the time because I believe in it. Discovering Gala Darling and her Radical Self Love courses helped me start being more kind to myself, more honest with others, and more willing to dispose of any toxicity I found in my life. Gala’s advice isn’t medical, she’s not a licensed therapist, but she offers sound advice and her book, honestly, is my knee-jerk reaction answer when anyone asks me for self-help books to help them cope with depression. Why? Well, to be frank, depression likes to tell you that you’re worthless, and without a strong foundation in loving yourself, and the daily upkeep conscious Radical Self Love requires, that is one of the most debilitating things about the disease.
The No-Bullshit Guide to Depression by Steven Skoczen
Why do I recommend Skoczen’s book? He lives with depression. He understands what it’s like. He also doesn’t promise a cure. Instead he teaches you how to live WITH depression, something we’re really bad about planning and strategizing for, typically. When my depression rears its ugly head it always seems to come out of the blue and I find myself blindsided. Why? Because once I claw my way out of depression’s cloud, I’m so relieved to feel “normal” again that I don’t like to think about it happening again. I lie to myself and choose to believe that I’m finally better. I doubt, scratch that, I know I’m not alone in this problematic thought cycle. That’s why learning to live with it is better than buying into ridding yourself of it, in my opinion.
21 Ways to a Happier Depression: A Creative Guide to Getting Unstuck from Anxiety, Setbacks, and Stress by Seth Swirsky
First off, I’ve just got to say how much I love this book’s title. Because, if we’re honest, that’s what we’re all aiming for: A happier depression! Swirsky has filled this book with practical and fun coping strategies that range from creative endeavors like painting to productive ideas like organizing paperwork. These strategies work. They may not work for everyone all of the time, but they will work for most people, most of the time. The key to dealing with your depression is to have a variety of weapons in your arsenal. Obviously, professional treatment is huge, but what about your day-to-day arsenal? Maybe reading is your preferred escape (it’s definitely mine) and one day it stops working, maybe for a day, maybe for a week, maybe for months? When your tried-and-true option fails, you need to have a Plan B, and a Plan C, and maybe Plans D through Z as well. 21 Ways to a Happier Depression provides you will some great suggestions for those contingencies.
How to Be Depressed: A Guide by Dana Eagle + illustrated by Kelly Puissegur
I love this interactive book! It’s tongue-in-cheek approach to helping you cope with your depression is so grand. Puissegur’s illustrations will make you smile, while Eagle’s dark humor will make you laugh despite the heavy subject material. I’m not sure this is a great recommendation if you’re only just learning to live with your depression, as it takes a healthy dose of self-awareness to appreciate this kind of humorous approach. If you’re like me, however, and are already comfortable inviting your demons to tea and parading the elephant in the room around on sparkly, neon leash, then this might just prove to be the kind of therapy your jaded mind needs. Besides, where else are you going to find out what the perks of being depressed in France truly are?
Your Illustrated Guide To Becoming One With The Universe by Yumi Sakugawa
While this may not seem like a book that will help you tackle your depression, I can promise you it will. Sakugawa’s illustrations are some of my favorites and her concept of inviting your demons to tea resonated hard with me the first time I read this one, and has become my go-to phrase (and visual aid) when explaining to people who may not understand why I talk about my depression and anxiety so often. If I tried to ignore my mental health issues, they would haunt me like an oppressive black cloud, by being able to look them in the face and discuss them openly, I am the one in control, not the depression demon. I would also suggest her There Is No Right Way to Meditate: And Other Lessons if you dig this book.
How to Be Happy (Or at Least Less Sad): A Creative Workbook by Lee Crutchley
Rob Delaney’s review says it best: “This book made me nervous when I first scanned through it because I knew it would work! This isn’t a self-help book; it’s more of a blue-collar, get-down-to-business friend with calloused hands who is ready to boogie when you are. This book is about action, but also acknowledgment. There are no platitudes and its author is no Pollyanna. It’s an explicit map that leads to a place where you’re going to feel measurably better, and better equipped to face life’s vicissitudes.” It’s not overly clinical, it’s not obnoxiously optimistic (because that’s the opposite of effective when you’re in the clutches of depression), and it’s a hands-on approach.
The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb PhD
Prefer you self-help with more science? How about a solid option from an actual neuroscientist? Alex Korb uses, and quotes, tons of scientific studies to provide a path to managing your depression. His advice works, too, for a couple of reasons: 1. Knowing the problem is a real, quantifiable illness is such a relief to most people who suffer from depression. Turns out it’s not in our heads and “thinking positive” isn’t a cure-all. And 2. Unlike a lot of more scientific self-help titles, this isn’t a dry, boring read that you give up on a couple of chapters in due to boredom or confusion.
52 Lists for Happiness: Weekly Journaling Inspiration for Positivity, Balance, and Joy by Moorea Seal
Alright, technically this is a journal and not an official self-help book, but how much more self-helpy can you get than actually putting in the work yourself? One thing I have learned over my years of struggle is that depression and anxiety (which have a delightful habit of showing up to the party together) are really skilled at making you forget the good things. Humans are already inclined towards remembering criticism over compliment, depression just adds a second obscuring darkness over all of the positive. Seal’s beautiful guided journal is a great launching point for working on gratitude lists. And gratitude lists force you to acknowledge that life doesn’t suck 100 percent. Once you know that the depression is lying about everything sucking, it’s easier to spot all of the other lies its telling your brain.
Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide: A Memoir by Darryl McDaniels
I appreciate D.M.C., of Run-D.M.C., natch, so much for this honest memoir. I mean, the fact that he credits Sarah McLachlan and her album Surfacing with saving his life is so rad. Sadly, we still live in a society where mental health is stigmatized, and this is especially true in the black community. For a black male, already established as a role model, to speak so openly about his struggles is monumental and important. While this isn’t a self-help book for depression in the traditional sense, it is relatable and through that relatability it is helpful. At the very least, it’s massively helpful in facilitating the destruction of mental health stigma.
The Short Circuit: Depression and Anxiety Exposed For What It Really Is by Dr Shammy Noor
Dr. Noor is a practicing GP in the UK and was inspired to write The Short Circuit after a patient told him how life-changing his consultation had been. It wasn’t life-changing because it cured him of his illness, it was life-changing because for the first time in his life Dr. Noor’s patient was able to see past societal stigma and understand that what was ailing him was an actual medical condition not just a sour perspective on life. This book’s aim is to create a new mindset in people and breakdown the millennia-long misconceptions about mental illness. I strongly recommend this one if you’re having trouble accepting what’s going on in your brain, or if you need a book to give to someone in your life that might not understand the legitimacy of your illness.
Want to explore additional self-help titles and topics? Check out our previous posts! What other self-help books for depression do you suggest?