Book Review: Jonathan Zuess, The Wisdom of Depression

1999, Newleaf Press, ISBN 0-7171-2874-1

It seems to be almost open season on Depression, The great and the good write
books describing their experience of it, television programmes are made about it,
increasingly scary statistics arc quoted for incidence of it. Dr. Zuess’s work offers
a refreshing change. Instead of dwelling on the awfulness of depression he
examines the usefulness of it, and looks at how it can be real force for change in a
person’s life. Most people who develop depression, he believes, have some source
of chronic stress in their lives.

Through his work he has observed that a period of depression can often be
followed by a kind of personal renewal, a deep-seated transformation that enables
the individual to cope at a higher level than ever before. What is often described
as a ‘breakdown’ can actually allow a meaningful reorganization and reintegration
to occur at may levels of the mind and body and how dreaming is a crucial part of
the response.

But sometimes the depressed response does not succeed in its goal of inner
transformation, and can turn into a serious illness, described by psychiatrists as
“major depressive disorder.” For this the author recommends a holistic treatment
which incorporates the best of both alternative and conventional medicine. He
explains certain new research findings into natural anti-depressant approaches.
Sunlight therapy, for example, and nutritional supplements available from health-
food stores have been shown to be effective, as have exercise and meditation. He
extols the virtues of St. John’s wort, used for centuries by women herbalists of
Europe and Asia which is increasingly used for the treatment of mild-to-moderate
depression, with only a fraction of the side-effects of conventional medication.

Dr. Zuess examines recent research which shows that abnormal immune
functioning is an important feature of major depressive disorder. This link is so
strong that some scientists even suggest that major depressive disorder is mainly
an immunological problem. The immune response, the adrenal stress-hormone
response and the brain’s neurotransmitter response all mirror the psychological
upset. They reflect an inability to resolve the bodymind’s responses. Unable to be
turned off again, they are all in a state of overactivation, of unfocused and
unproductive high energy, leading to burnout.

This book contains numerous case histories, useful information about nutritional
healing, the place for medication and creative solutions for this most painful of
conditions. It is a wide-ranging study of depression which offers new perspectives
and new insights for therapists and their clients. I would strongly recommend it.

Mavis Arnold