Book Review: "The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression" by Andrew Solomon

Updated on January 25, 2018
KatWin profile image

Over 30 years in human services working for and with people with developmental disabilities. Retired, I now write and quilt for fun.

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Introduction

Andrew Solomon states “…there is chaos in the kingdom” and this book was his attempt to bring order to a wide range of topics concerning depression. In the Noonday Demon, Solomon charts the way through his own breakdowns to general population issues with depression. He analyzes depression through the context of history, poverty and politics. From poets, to doctors, to scientists, to peers, Solomon gathers the information and put it together eloquently.

Treatment Options

Solomon devotes two chapters in his book to deal with standard treatments and alternative treatments for depression. In his chapter on standard treatments he notes there have been a “number of studies showing that therapy is not nearly as effective as drugs for taking people out of depression, but that therapy has a protective effect against reoccurrence.” However, finding the right medications or the right therapist is not necessarily easy. Solomon states he has taken numerous medications at different levels and at different times for his mental health. During his second breakdown he searched through ten therapists before finding one he liked. It is evident from his book, he is not alone in the difficulties of finding the right combination of therapies.

In these two chapters, Solomon explores through interviews and, in some cases personal experience, at least 30 different therapies. Some are common therapies like diet, exercise, labor, cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapies. Other familiar remedies discussed included various synthetic medications (SSRIs, tricyclics, MAOIs and atypical antidepressants) and natural remedies like St. John’s Wart and SAMe. More controversial treatment discussed included Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) and Cingulotomy, a modern-day type of lobotomy.

Statistics on Depression and Treatment

Available research, at the time of the book (2001), estimated that 19 million people, including children, had chronic depression and that number was escalating. Solomon notes that “Poverty is depressing and depression is impoverishing, leading as it does to dysfunction and isolation.” Depression among welfare recipients is cited as three times higher than the general population, yet Solomon indicates little work has been done in this area.

While twice as many women are diagnosed with depression as men, nearly 4 times the number of men as opposed to women are likely to commit suicide according to Solomon’s research, Solomon notes in his chapter on suicide, “someone in a first depressive episode is particularly likely to attempt suicide; a person who has lived through a few cycles has in general learned to live through cycles.”

Given the number of people who have depression, it was startling to read John Greden’s, director of the Mental Health Research Institute at the University of Michigan, statement that “it’s between 1 and 2 percent who get really optimal treatment for an illness that can usually be well-controlled with relatively inexpensive medications that have few serious side effects.” After reading Solomon’s book, I agree such a small percentage of people getting optimal help is in part a result of lack of organization in dissemination of research and practice. There is also the interference of stigma, poverty and politics.

It should be noted that Solomon, and this author, do not believe pills alone will help those have experienced major depression or that everyone with depression needs pills. However, we both acknowledge that medication, in addition to “talk” therapy, have been important components to our recovery.

Social Stigma of Depression

In his chapter on politics, he talked about social stigma still being one of the biggest barriers to progress. Many people Solomon interviewed for his book asked that their names not be used. While the National Alliance for Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association continue to educate, inform and lobby on behalf of individuals with depression, Solomon notes “we are blind to the epidemic proportions of depression because the reality is so seldom uttered…”

Observation

This book is an eye-opening and comprehensive resource about a wide range of topics related to depression. My copy of the book is well-worn with notations and highlights throughout the book. I have read the book (571 pages) more than once as much for its literary merit as well as the information on depression. The book won the 2001 National Book Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The book was updated in 2015.

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas Of Depression
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas Of Depression

This is link to 2015 edition with updated information. I have ordered a copy to update this review and to replace my well-worn 2001 edition.

 

© 2018 Kathy Burton

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    • KatWin profile image
      Author

      Kathy Burton 3 months ago from Florida

      K@ri,

      The first part of it was very helpful to me. Thanks for taking your time to read the review and comment. It is very appreciated.

      Kathy

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 3 months ago from Ohio

      This sounds like a very helpful book. Especially for those of us who are depressed. Thanks for the information.

    • KatWin profile image
      Author

      Kathy Burton 3 months ago from Florida

      Ms. Dora,

      Yes. The book could be described as a handbook. The author’s description of his own depression and other facts in the book were very helpful to me. Thank you so much for taking the time to read the article and comment.

      Kathy

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for this review. The book seems like a handbook of sorts from which anyone can benefit. There are depressed people who don't even know that they are.

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