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Depression

Self-help resources for depression

Initially at least, posters, booklets and leaflets (e.g. from self-help organisations, GP surgeries, health centres) can be useful sources of information. However, such sources are limited by the amount and quality of information they can contain. For instance, one woman was annoyed by the information in a leaflet that seemed to reduce depression to merely being a low mood, rather than being the complete despair she felt. Also, informative notices, booklets and leaflets about depression are not reliably available in convenient places. A woman who was disappointed by the lack of such information at her GP surgery found more about depression in women's magazines.

 

Says that there is little information about depression in her doctor's surgery, but she can...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 39
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Well, I'll tell you what. Down the doctor's surgery there ain't no numbers on the board. There's not general... you just, you don't want to go and. I don't like time wasting and.... and I don't want people to think I'm nuts. I don't, it's silly little things like reading the Bella magazines and things that like that you find out more things. There's a couple more things now in.... in your women's magazines that's a bit more helpful, but there ain't nothing down the doctor's surgery and there ain't nothing, I don't know if there's anything down the library. 

You know, they ought to be putting notices around just so that... because the thing is how shall I put it? You want, you want some... you want notices like that in everyday places, like sort of around because the thing is, even with, changing the subject just slightly, just like somebody who's been abused by her husband. If she's only walking round she can't get to the doctor's if she's taking the kids out or something like that.
 

Receiving newsletters from self-help organisations (e.g. Depression Alliance and Mind) was a popular way of keeping up-to-date with information on depression. In particular, people could relate to the personal stories that were submitted to such newsletters. One man found that people's stories helped him to make better sense of what he had been through himself.

 

Says that a newsletter had interesting ideas and information, as well as personal stories, which...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
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And I also got in touch with [self-help organisation]. In fact I had been a member of [self-help organisation] for a few years earlier, and I got the newsletter which had a lot of personal experiences in, which I found very interesting and thought provoking. It did manage to make sense of what I'd been through, put it into context as it were. And of course, you get a lot of different views there. I mean this was the '90s before people started really thinking of depression as a biological illness, probably. And you know, there were some interesting ideas there about cognitive therapy as well, and interesting ideas about the way depression related to society and all kinds of things like that, which I found quite stimulating.

In trying to get a better handle on depression, self-help books were very popular. People found a range of books helpful. Many people had books recommended to them, or visited a library or bookshop to see what was available and find a book that suited them. The choice of book is very personal. Nevertheless, research suggests that certain books are helpful in depression.

Some people had found books that put words to their experience. For instance, one woman learnt how to better deal with the 'chatter box' in her head through reading a cognitive behavioural therapy style book. Another women's counsellor gave her Dorothy Rowe's 'Depression' The Way Out of Your Prison'. She found it made sense of her feelings of guilt and how she was not looking after herself. A woman with strong spiritual beliefs found a book that contained helpful 'thoughts for the day', prayers and meditations.

 

Explains she learnt how to better deal with the 'chatter box' in her head through reading a...

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 14
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Yeah, yes, David Burn's 'Feeling Good', a friend of mine read it. And he knew that I was reading loads of books and ordering loads of books. And, she said to me, '[Participant's name], I've got a brilliant book that you would absolutely love. I think you should get it and read it, it might give you something to learn.' You know, so I thought ok, fine, so off I went, Amazon, ordered it, got it. Quite sceptical, you know, I'd read loads of books but hey, why's this going to be any different. You find them quite repetitive after a while. You find that they all sort of say the same thing, but just in a different way which does become a bit tedious because you've read it all and it's like, well where from here? So I sat and read this book, and you know it's quite a hefty one. But it's a really good one. 

And just because someone else might see something one way, doesn't mean that it's right or wrong. It's very difficult to sort of'stop yourself, and realise that just because you have an opinion or you express yourself a certain way, it's not right or wrong, to you know, to act that way. It's really, it's really difficult, 'cos it's everything in the book ties up with other things and you know cognitive therapy for me, is my chatter box and arguing with it.

 
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Says that she uses a book by Dorothy Rowe, and she really relates to aspects of the book, while...

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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It's (Dorothy Rowe's 'Depression' The Way Out of Your Prison) one of those books that you can like dip into and dip out of it. And some of it is relevant, some of it is not at all relevant, and some of it I read it and thought, 'How dare she criticise like parents' and stuff like that. But other bits of it'. it's the sort of book you can keep going back to. And I go back to it even now. And it's really good. It's really good because it's all about'.. The stuff that I was talking about'. feeling guilty and not looking after myself and it's all in there. That's probably what I'm spouting it all from because it's about' it's about looking after you and. Some of the things just make me laugh. You know because it's so like, 'Oh my God that's me. I'm in there. That's what I do' you know.  And then there are case scenarios as well, case studies and things like that.  But obviously with any book you've got to read it with'.. And you know, be open to like criticism and there are things that aren't going to be relevant.
 
 

Says that a book by Joan Borysenko with thoughts, prayers and meditations from a range of...

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 20
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And I use a very good little book, it's called 'Pocketful of Miracles' it's just up there, by Joan Borysenko. And yes, that's a very good book actually.

Can I have a look at it?

Do have a look at it. It's published in America, and she uses many different religious traditions including native traditions. I don't know about aboriginal but certainly native American. And she does some Christian as well, and there will be a seed thought for the day. And then there will be prayer/practice. It might just be a prayer or it might just be an invitation to practise one of the meditations, and at the back of the book there are several which are quite simply explained, different ways of meditating. For example, imagining the breath coming from the earth, the energy coming from the earth. Imagining it coming from a higher energy centre, and meeting and becoming stronger in the heart centre.
 

Many people now search for information on the Internet and some are so motivated to research their condition that they read academic journals obtained from the Internet or libraries. Through library work, one man was able to understand how his tendency to ruminate (continually over think things) was contributing to his depression. Others explained that specialist books could be ordered on the Internet, and journal articles and information can often be downloaded free.

 

Talks about how his academic research into depression led to useful information, such as how his...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 17
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But actually, probably one of the most important things for me that came out of working for [self-help group] is I got interested in the subject of depression for it's own sake and I started looking at research myself and trying to '. I was looking at academic research, I used to go to the British Library and the University of East London and look through journals there. And that made a lot of sense to me. I understood, because I've got a background in maths, I can understand all the statistics and basically I found a lot of useful information, for example to do with what happens if you tend to ruminate and things. And I had a very strong tendency to spend'. use the time that I had by myself to look inwards and I realised that by doing that and concentrating on the faults, that was actually making me more pessimistic.
 

The Internet is also an increasingly important source of 'virtual support.' One woman described the Internet as a “treasure chest”. Some had found local support groups through mental health-related websites.

 

Says that discussion forums on the Internet can be very informative as well as supportive for...

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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And while I was on, the, she, on that site, the [name] site, there's a depression forum, a forum for people with depression and I found it very interesting to research, you know, to look at what other people were saying. And it's very supportive if you have depression to go on there because there are people going on saying, 'Help, you know, I'm at the end, I can't cope'. And then people come back to them with messages, and I, I've written a message myself.
 

Internet support is particularly helpful for those lacking confidence. This is because people can 'lurk' in chat rooms and watch discussions before participating, or discuss issues with others anonymously, without having to talk to people face-to-face. The story of one man (who was extremely distressed by thoughts of suicide) demonstrates the potential benefits of the Internet, as well as its risks. He visited an Internet discussion group about suicide when he was suicidal. He discovered it was populated by other very depressed people who were also suicidal. While this could be a dangerous forum for a suicidal person, he gained comfort from the discussion group through knowing he was neither alone in his thoughts, nor some kind of monster because of his thoughts.

 

Found a suicide discussion group, which exposed him to extremely depressed and suicidal people at...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 24
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It's a discussion group of people talking'. of essentially extremely depressed people talking about suicide. And talking about suicidal feelings and suicidal methods and yeah, from time to time people die on it. But in a weird perverse way it's a source of strength and a source of comfort. And it's been more of a source of comfort actually than a lot of the other resources about depression, which I found on the Internet, they sort of tend to be quite factual and well meaning. 

People say, you know, you can phone the Samaritans or whatever but you know, while I was there, I didn't know what to say. And in any case, I didn't want to talk to anybody. But, you know, just the feeling that' you aren't alone. It was a great source of comfort'. And to find that in fact your weren't the only person to feel like that was actually a great relief. It was also a great relief to find that' to find people who were non-judgemental.

The Internet can also be used to 'demystify authority', gather information about treatment options, the side effects of drugs and withdrawal symptoms before and after visiting doctors. That way people can check up on the doctor's advice, become more informed about treatments, and work out the right questions to ask ahead of time. As one woman said, people need to be 'forewarned' and 'forearmed'. A woman in her thirties learnt about the importance of using the Internet through experience of memory loss after ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy). Another concluded that Seroxat (paroxetine) was at least partly responsible for her suicide attempt after reading other people's accounts on the BBC Panorama website.

 

Says that the Internet allows you to 'demystify' health professional authority because you can...

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 51
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But the point that the Internet has done, has kind of demystified authority, so in the past doctors would prescribe something, and you'd just take it because the doctor said so. Now most folks will look up on the Internet, what's the side effects, what do we know about this drug before we take it. So I think that's informing more people, and probably the same will happen with psychiatric conditions. People will look up what's been said and you know, is there any dispute about this, are you, is this the, is the truth or is it just a version of the truth.

 

Says that it is important to educate yourself through the Internet and books about treatments...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 24
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I mean, they said that six sessions of ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), was the standard kind of beginning that I would get. And I was told that it worked for most people, it was very good treatment. You don't feel a thing because of the anaesthetic, a very simple, quick treatment. It worked for most people. It would last three, four months and because we tried so many different drugs with you, we really don't know'. this is the last kind of line. There is nothing else we can do at this point. You know, you've basically, you've got to have it. 

So I kind of, at the time I was depressed. I was in hospital. I was depressed. So I just, I didn't care actually. But I didn't think it was barbaric or'I just thought OK then. I'll have that if you say it works. I'll have it. I kind of, you know I was listening to them, just very accepting of what they were saying. Only now I've educated myself, which is very important. 

If ever I take a new drug, and I don't take any medication at all now since January I've been off medication, but if I was ever going to take medication or have any kind of treatment I think' if you've got access to the Internet or library research it's so important to do your own research because the professionals will only give you their side of the story. 

I was never told this may cause long-term memory loss, which it has done. I have massive blanks, short-term and long-term.

 

Having taken the antidepressant 'Seroxat' she says could make better sense of her experience of...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 19
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Well when my mum found out that I'd been on Seroxat when it happened she referred me to the Panorama website. She told me a little bit about it, but I felt quite sceptical about it because I hadn't related what had happened to the Seroxat. I'd felt that that was just how my depression had developed. And when I went and read the descriptions other people had given of their experiences on Seroxat, it was absolutely stunning. I was amazed to find descriptions of very similar feelings and physical side-effects that I'd had. And it was, it was a big relief, to feel that maybe it wasn't just my head being that messed up, maybe there had been this outside influence, and you know, that other people had experienced it and had got better.

So when you discovered this website, what did you do next?

Well I read through a whole lot of descriptions by other people and went away and thought about it a lot. And I kept going back to see if there were any updates or anything, and in the end I sent an email with my experiences, just to, you know, add my contribution and back up what the other people were saying. 

And because all the experiences were slightly different, because some people had some side-effects, and other people had others and some had a mixture, you know perhaps, perhaps it was in some ways significant, the precise reaction that I'd had. And it.... it did help me to think much more clearly about what had happened, and to think from stage to stage, and to... actually I hadn't thought about the fact that all this had happened so quickly after I'd started to take Seroxat. It was just like I hadn't been thinking.

Last reviewed September 2017.
Last updated September 2017.

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