Written in the style of a self-help book, Depression Doesn't Always Have to Be Depressing by the late author James R. Holmes, attempts to provide answers to the question of why we get depressed. Holmes uses a theory of loss of status as the major reason to depression rather than explaining depression using theories of chemical or hormonal imbalances. Therefore, a person's status and place in the world is key in understanding depression and why we become depressed. Depression, thereby, is primarily the result of changes in our place in the world.
By status, Holmes does not necessarily mean status as in a hierarchical order but status as a person's place in the world or a person's identity (although status such as social status can play a major role). Holmes means that our status in the world can often be explained in terms of our relationships. For example, a person can have the status of son, husband, father, or grandfather and so on. If this person loses, for example, his wife in an accident or through divorce, his status in the world changes and so does this person's reasons for doing some of the things that he used to do. Holmes provides the example of a young man who lost his daughter and wife in a car accident. In losing the people that he loved, he also lost his status and role as a father and husband and thereby also lost his reasons for doing the things that he previously did and which made him happy and gave him a purpose in life.
In order to back up his theory of loss of status, Holmes provides numerous case studies and explain, in each of the studies, how the person involved suffered a loss of status and how this made him or her depressed. The case studies are very varied and provides examples of all types of hardships, some extremely tragic, which makes for difficult but eye opening reading. Holmes suggests that in order to understand depression a person needs to look for status loss when realizing that they are depressed.
But, Holmes does distinguish between what he calls discouraged vs. depressed and guilty vs. depressed. Holmes means that a person's sense of guilt (in the book he provides the example of a man who drives intoxicated and collides with another car) can easily be confused with depression, but is not in fact depression. A person who is discouraged can also appear depressed but the difference is whether or not they have lost status or if they are, for example, simply overwhelmed by too many responsibilities.
Holmes theory makes great sense in regards to major losses such as the loss of a loved one or in circumstances of major trauma and abuse. I do find the theory, however, less convincing for people who are dealing with minor losses (if I can call them that despite the fact that people react differently to different events, making them perhaps larger for some than other). For example, Holmes writes that: "…you can even become depressed at the loss of a pet that was a "member of the family" or the loss of a car that was the faithful and reliable companion that always got you back home" (p. 19). I would believe that a person who loses their pet or their car would be more likely to be down or discouraged than depressed and personally I do not believe that the loss of a car would be reason enough to cause depression when looking at the clinical term of depression and the symptoms of depression (these symptoms are also provided in the book).
As stated above, I do find Holmes theory very convincing for major losses and Holmes states that he believes more in therapy than in antidepressants since medication does not identify or deal with the underlying causes of depression, which I believe makes perfect sense. I do however not believe that all of the case studies provided in the book truly would cause or result in depression (however emotional responses might vary from person to person).
Depression Doesn't Always Have to Be Depressing is straight forward, interesting and easy to read. It provides many fascinating case studies and would be a great source of information for any student interested in depression and the treatment of depression. The fact that it is accessible and easily understood makes it a great introductory book for psychology students.
© 2014 Elin Weiss
Elin Weiss has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Women's Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland.