A Review of “Defeating Depression” by Leslie Vernick

vernickDefeating depression involves two key steps: (1) understanding ourselves, and (2) understanding God. In her work Defeating Depression, counselor and licensed social worker Leslie Vernick attempts to help readers with both. Written largely with women in mind, this book is nonetheless useful to anyone. With spiritual counsel, medical insight, and practical advice Leslie provides readers with a wonderful guide for working through our emotional suffering.

The book is written largely for women, and so the author regularly refers to women. Though written this way, the content of the book is broadly applicable and will be useful to even male readers. Since, however, women are the majority gender experiencing depression these days she writes specifically with them in view.

Defeating Depression centers around the reality that women are “relational beings.” As such, not only does depression impact those relationships, but defeating depression comes through addressing those relationships. So, Leslie breaks the book down into three parts. Part one focuses on a “Woman’s relationship with herself.” Part two examines her “relationship with others,” and part three “A woman’s relationship with God.”

Part one is the most lengthy and addresses everything from common causes of depression, biology, and self-esteem. There are no trite answers here. She walks readers carefully through common causes without attempting to reduce depression to a singular issue. She admits the complexity in trying to diagnose causation, and is quick to point out that everyone’s experience of depression is somewhat unique. She recognizes, however, that there are a number of common lies that we believe about ourselves that can contribute to our experience of depression. She targets, then, our beliefs about ourselves. Her awareness of the medically related issues is insightful and honest. She speaks to the types of antidepressants, and their usefulness, yet she is also honest enough to admit that antidepressants do not cure depression and sometimes do not prove effective for every individual.

Part two walks readers through the role that community can play both in depression and in treating it. Chapter 7 explores past hurts that may contribute to or exacerbate our emotional suffering and so she guides readers briefly through working through past trauma. Obviously in a book on depression she is not able to give a full treatment of past trauma, but she points us in a good direction. She also explores the role that relationships can play in helping us to cope with emotional sorrow. She readily recognizes the challenges a depressed person experiences in their efforts to be social, yet she does not shy away from stressing its importance and giving us simple steps to guide us into relationship building. Finally she explores the ways in which we may need to work through conflict.

Part three caps off the book by exploring a woman’s relationship to God. It would be unfair to say that Leslie has been saving her spiritual counsel for the end of the work. It has, rather, appeared throughout every chapter, since, after all, God is directly related to both the other relational aspects. She understands the spiritual depression that can often accompany our physical, mental, and emotional sorrow during these seasons and so she guides us in steps towards “connecting with God” in chapter 10. Chapter 11, then, asks the common question “how long, O Lord?”

This is a very helpful resource. It will not be as simple and accessible as Ed Welch’s book on Depression, with its short and engaging chapters. Yet, Defeating Depression can help readers to go to the next level in addressing their problems. She urges patience and guides readers in a step-by-step process of working towards healthy coping strategies for their emotional challenges. Each chapter ends with some practical exercises to work through. In this regard, the book would be useful for counselors to work with people suffering from depression. In addition she also includes numerous stories, from actual women who suffer from depression, to help motivate the next steps in her readers.

There are few places in the book where I might question some of Vernick’s assertions (like her approval of ECT as a positive treatment, and her discussion of serotonin levels), but overall this is a good resource. It will be especially useful to women as they seek a companion and guide through their experiences of emotional suffering. I commend Defeating Depression as a useful practical and spiritual resource for battling depression.

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