Reads to Rewrite Your Life 7: Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor

Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You by Richard O’Connor tackles depression with a skills-based approach. It explains how depression teaches people to develop certain skills, such as procrastination and negative thinking, which perpetuate depression. These skills enhance and reinforce each other, so that the coping mechanisms of a person with depression appear to form a tangled mass. It can be difficult to know where to begin to improve the situation, so the sufferer feels overwhelmed and is often left feeling unable to do anything.

However, O’Connor points out that if these depression-perpetuating skills form a tangled ball of string, it can be picked apart by starting anywhere. The key is to develop skills which improve depression, either challenging the skills which perpetuate depression and/or bypassing them. It doesn’t matter which skills you decide to develop first, as long as you work on at least one of the skills which will help you emerge from the tangled mass.

The skills needed to overcome depression can seem simple and easy, but O’Connor takes into account the difficulty of taking positive action when you are suffering from depression and guides the reader through each of the skills. He is never patronising nor does he obfuscate the information with jargon and theory. Instead, neuroscientific and psychological explanations are used to illuminate the points O’Connor makes and provide practical advice.

A variety of skills are presented in Undoing Depression, including developing willpower, getting in touch with your emotions and making plans. There are skills relating to every aspect of life: thinking, relationships, work, physical health, recreation, etc. and plenty of guidance on how to implement changes in your life. Like depression-perpetuating skills, these depression-combatting skills can reinforce each other. As soon as you start developing a couple of skills, you are creating a network which will help you recover from depression.

However, don’t be fooled – O’Connor acknowledges the difficulties involved in overcoming depression. The book contains a lot of information on medication and different types of therapy, which may be used in conjunction with a skills-based approach. Improvement is emphasised throughout: there are no false promises of overnight recovery. Developing new skills is difficult, there’s no sugar-coating that fact, but it is possible and a necessary proponent of recovering from depression.

As much as I value the practical advice in Undoing Depression, the biggest difference it has made to me, personally, is to my perspective. I can see how many of the thoughts and behaviours associated with depression are both symptoms and causes. I understand the importance of unpicking the habits which contribute to depression. I realise it is vital to be proactive, even if I am only able to take tiny steps.

I have read many books about depression and this has been the most useful by far. It has helped me gain a greater understanding of my mental health in general and depression in particular, as well as offering realistic, practical advice. It has empowered me.



About the Reads to Rewrite Your Life series

This series discusses books which have helped to change my perspective on life. Many will be self-help guides, some will be classics and others will be a little different… I aim to provide an eclectic mix to inspire everyone, regardless of whether or not you have mental health issues.

  1. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway – Susan Jeffers
  2. Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking – Susan Cain
  3. The How of Happiness – Sonja Lyubomirsky
  4. The Art of Non Conformity – Chris Guillebeau
  5. Wherever You Go, There You Are – Jon Kabat-Zinn
  6. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  7. Undoing Depression – Richard O’Connor