Tony Bates. Gill & Macmillan: 2011 (160pp). ISBN: 978-071714780-9
If the shelves of my local bookshop are anything to go by, the self-help genre has never been more popular. Everything from career, to love life, to weight, to self esteem is seemingly malleable with the help of a little paperback tome filled with wisdom. But there is a catch – not all self help is of the same quality and faithful readers do not always know the difference. For clinicians, it can be equally difficult to know what reading materials to recommend to patients and relatives with the aim of expediting recovery.
Consequently, it is always a relief when a reputable professional with a proven track record decides to update material that has already proved enormously successful. One such example is Dr Tony Bates, the founding Director of Headstrong (the National Centre for Youth Mental Health in Ireland), who has many years additional experience as a Principal Clinical Psychologist at St James’s Hospital, Dublin. His original self-help book, entitled Depression: A Common Sense Approach (1999), was so well received it sold some thirty thousand copies. His updated version could leap off the shelves just as quickly, particularly as it incorporates mindfulness, a technique that has become increasingly popular over the past decade.
Coming through Depression: A Mindful Approach to Recovery is written in clear and concise English. This is worth mentioning first, lest we forget that, in the context of mental illness, not all of its potential readers will have optimum concentration levels. This book is practical, however. Dr Bates utilises vignettes and case histories to which the reader can easily relate, while diagrams and tables illustrate concepts such as the manner in which thoughts, feelings, physical symptoms and behaviours interact. The book is divided into three parts, with Part One providing a simple explanation of what it might feel like to experience depression, along with common signs and symptoms of the illness and a differentiation between mild and severe depression. There are sections on childhood and postnatal depression, and a checklist that the reader can use to assess their own depressive symptoms. Dr Bates also explores the causes of depression, from childhood experiences through to genetic theories.
In Part Two, Dr Bates examines approaches that can aid recovery, including daily structure, mood tracking, lifestyle changes and appropriate help-seeking. The author explains in detail how to set up a mood diary, an activity log and a recovery journal, while this section also includes both a chapter on building self-esteem, and a chapter dedicated to carers.
Finally, in Part Three, Dr Bates explores the concept and practice of mindfulness. Much of what he writes is based on the work of three pioneers of the area, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mark Williams, all of whom were one-time teachers of Dr Bates. According to the author, “Mindfulness means resting in the present moment, with full awareness. When we are mindful, we bring attention back to whatever is happening in our lives”. This, he suggests, allows us to enjoy the simple things in daily life we might otherwise overlook such as “the smile on a child’s face” or “the sensation of the breeze against our skin”. Mindfulness, Dr Bates says, “gives us a gentle way to respond to distress” in which we “learn to notice and to accept difficulties as they emerge, rather than trying to push them away and suppress them”. The book benefits in particular from the inclusion of a mindfulness CD, allowing the theory explained in the book to be practiced with relative ease.
Coming through Depression: A Mindful Approach to Recovery is an articulate, sensitive and practical guide to recovery from depression that at no point encroaches upon other components of the multidisciplinary recovery plan. Perhaps, indeed, it provides the ray of hope individuals need when finding themselves trapped in the dark chamber of depression. Well worth recommending to patients and relatives alike.
St John of God Hospital,