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96 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book That Cured My Depression
The reviews here for this book so far have been pretty detached and impersonal. I'm now going to provide a personal account. I do not say this lightly: This book saved my life.

Last year I picked up Bruce Levine's "Surviving America's Depression Epidemic" at Barnes & Noble as a sort of impulse buy. I was scouring the self-help/psychology section during what was...
Published on April 10, 2008 by Enamorato

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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sorry to break up the 5 star party
First off, I commend Dr. Levine for a book that is well articulated and somewhat helpful in giving our society a wake-up call for greater community. However, if you are severely depressed and not just suffering from general malaise, you will find very little relief by its reading. Early on in the book he references Irving Kirsch's study showing anti-depressants to be...
Published on March 30, 2010 by Jeffrey Thomasson


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96 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book That Cured My Depression, April 10, 2008
By 
Enamorato (Washington, DC United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Paperback)
The reviews here for this book so far have been pretty detached and impersonal. I'm now going to provide a personal account. I do not say this lightly: This book saved my life.

Last year I picked up Bruce Levine's "Surviving America's Depression Epidemic" at Barnes & Noble as a sort of impulse buy. I was scouring the self-help/psychology section during what was probably my worst depressive episode of my entire life. I don't know what possessed me to pick this particular book. I seriously wasn't expecting much. I wasn't actually familiar with the author and the title itself is sort of hokey-sounding. I was prepared for nothing more than a superficial rewording of stuff that I'd already heard a million times or some crackpot theory. However, as soon as I got past the title and started on the introduction, I realized I was reading something very different. Dr. Levine's book is well-written, well-researched (the last 24 or so pages of the book consists of copious bibliographical notes), and well-designed. But it isn't just rehashing of old information with a new wrapper. Levine culls much insight out of the available research on not only the nature of what we call "depression" but also into the way we live.

What most struck me was that Levine absolutely refuses to oversimplify the problem of depression. He tackles the issues from an expansive sociological framework that puts what clinical psychology labels as an "illness" into a wider historical, social, and personal context. His thesis is as follows (quoting from the Introduction itself):

"Americans live in the age of industrialized medicine, and everyone - inside and outside of health care - is now in the same boat. Doctors are financially pressured to be speedy mechanics, and patients often recieve assembly-line treatment, which can be a painful reminder of their assembly-line lives. While most Americans manage to go to work and pay their bills, more than a few struggle just to get out of bed, and growing numbers feel fragile, hollow, hopeless, and defeated.

"In 1998, Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association, spoke to the National Press club about an American depression epidemic: '[W]e discovered two astonishing things about the rate of depression across the century. The first was there now is between ten and twenty times as much of it as there was fifty years ago. And the second is that it has become a young person's problem. When I first started working in depression thirty years ago... the average age of onset was 29.5. Now the average age is between fourteen and fifteen.'

"Despite the unparalleled material wealth of the United States, we Americans - especially our young - are increasingly unhappy. What is happening in our society and culture? How is it that the more we have come to rely on mental health professionals, the higher the rates of depression? And are we in need of a different approach to overcoming despair?"

Levine tackles these questions with tenacity and wisdom I haven't seen in any other book on depression. He redefines depression itself as a coping mechanism to shut down the anguish we feel. He offers hope to those who feel sensitive and misunderstood by relating historical examples (from Abraham Lincoln to Kurt Cobain) and offers insights into how we as individuals can find ourselves at odds with the society we grew up in. Depression is not necessarily a disease to be anesthetized with drugs, but a vital cry of our own humanity calling out to us in a largely dehumanizing world. Doctors no longer treat us as individuals just when we truly need it, but rather we become a list of symptoms and a consequent prescription.

This all may sound at odds with the current research on depression as a biological disorder organic to the brain. However, Levine reveals that this isn't at all at odds with the current RESEARCH (which has never supported a purely chemical genesis for depression) but rather the current THEORY of biological depression as popularized almost exclusively by pharmaceutical industry propaganda. It's interesting that Levine wrote this book several months prior to the widely publicized findings earlier this year (originally made public by The Wall Street Journal in January 2008) of a survey of studies submitted to the FDA that were never published. (The survey revealed that the alleged efficacy of antidepressants may have been highly inflated.)

Levine's plan of healing is empathetic, wise, and liberating. Unlike most such book there are absolutely no exercises or tedious worksheets or charts to fill out. Instead, Levine weaves in a hugely comprehensive list of approaches to healing including nurturing emotional openness, fostering friendships, using artistic expression, exercise, community activism and even ritualism as a means of coping.

A good portion of his approach is influenced by Buddhist psychology, with a particular emphasis on mindfulness and forgoing ego-attachments. This application of Eastern meditative traditions to depression has also recently been expounded upon by another group of psychologists in The Mindful Way through Depression, which also came out last year. That book provides excellent advice and tools for preventing relapse of depression, although it lacks the social/emotional insights that Levine elaborates on quite eloquently. That said, it is still an excellent resource.

I must state here and now that this book is not for everyone. If you are or have been on a course of antidepressants and/or therapy and have found your depression alleviated, you most likely do not need this book. If, however, you are like me and have not been helped by the current mental health system and still feel numb, hurting and lost in your life, give this book a chance. One other point that I actually found quite refreshing was Levine's reservations regarding talk-therapies such as CBT (which can be shaming) and the clinical patient-therapist relationship (which can feel like a kind of "paid friendship").

Had I heard what the book was about before I had the chance to actually read it, I might have dismissed it. However, several months after finishing it, my life has been completely transformed and I no longer feel so "broken." The term life-affirming gets thrown around a lot these days. But I cannot hesitate to call this a life-affirming read for anyone who is still struggling. Levine also takes an interesting angle that I was not aware of when I first bought the book (but apparently is in concert with Chelsea Green Publishing, the publisher's, credo). Levine posits that the society of consumer culture that contributes to depression cannot be sustainable in the long run. This is interesting and, although it may seem irrelevant when you just want to feel better, it actually helped me get out of my own head and see depression as a cultural problem as well. In other words, it helped me stop taking depression so personally. (This is an important point, and Chapter 5 deals with the dangers of "Self Absorption.") It is truly liberating to realize there may not be anything really wrong with YOU if you are depressed, but there may indeed be some things very wrong with the society you live in.

And, if all that wasn't enough incentive to buy a copy, for the environmentally conscientious among us, Chelsea Green publishes all their books on recycled paper! You can't go wrong.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest and Wise, March 24, 2009
By 
Dena (Washington) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Paperback)
Bruce Levine does two radical things in this book: he questions the psychiatric profession and looks at depression in the context of American Society. He does this even-handedly and with great care.

He begins by providing an overview of anti-depression drugs, citing considerable evidence that these drugs are not effective. For example, a survey of 47 drug-company sponsored studies published by the American Psychological Association found that "the anti-depressant failed to outperform a sugar-pill." Another study from Duke University found exercise to be more effective in treating depression than Zoloft.

Levine looks at what science knows about the brain and depression. He tells us that despite all the drugs and modern therapy, people in this country are more depressed than ever. He cites one study, for example, that found Mexican-Americans born in the U.S. have depression rates three times higher than recent immigrants from Mexico. Those same immigrants, after just 13 years in the country, catch up to the native-born Americans in their rate of depression.

Levine then looks at how our culture contributes to our unusually high rates of depression. "Technology is all about control, and the more Americans singularly worship technology, the more we singularly worship control," he writes. "Our society is increasingly dominated by megatechnologies--huge, complex, technologies that most of us neither understand or can control." This loss of control is a key component of depression. Levine also discusses social isolation, cultural pressures to be perpetually happy, consumerism's failure to meet real human needs, and the American discomfort with difference, to mention just a few.

Most of the book is a discussion of how to be sane in a world "gone crazy." As someone who was once diagnosed with depression, I found the book honest, wise and helpful.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book That Finally Makes Sense About Depression, October 30, 2007
This review is from: Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Paperback)
I have just finished reading this book, and I am so grateful for every chapter. Other books on depression have left me feeling more confused, not less. I had read articles by Levine before and felt he was on point at analyizing why depressed people, including myself, are not being helped by current treatments. This book delivers valuable insights into how Big Pharma and its allies have won the minds, hearts and money of Americans. It also brilliantly takes to task America's skewed values - while offering energizing ideas for combating depression and crushed morale.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars refreshing, September 21, 2011
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This review is from: Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Paperback)
Those who don't want to hear a critique of the mental health industry will find that much in this book makes them uncomfortable. The author challenges many attitudes of the mental health establishment that have been portrayed and widely accepted as fact. He discusses the partnership between the mental health industry and pharmaceutical companies, and shows how research, psychiatry/psychology education, and the business of pushing medication are intertwined and interdependent. If you don't want the underpinnings of your belief system about your illness questioned, you will not enjoy this book. Dr. Levine makes a thorough presentation of facts that appear to contradict the notion that depression or other mental disorders are either inherited or biologically-based. He also argues that while the bio-based position may have alleviated some of the social stigma of depression, it's replaced it with a kind of inherent-defectiveness stigma. Whether or not one believes in a biological or chemical basis for depression, there is a lot of wisdom here. Levine's primary focus is on the alienating aspects of our consumerist society, and various forms of inflexible, one-size-fits-nobody authoritarian bureaucracy (including education, corporate, and medical systems.) He argues that depression is a natural response to an essentially dehumanizing environment, in which we've lost our autonomy and access to real community. His remedy is to think about basic human needs and what we can do to contribute to our neighborhoods and meet those needs, joining with others to work toward common, life-enhancing goals. If drugs help you, Dr. Levine makes clear he has no argument with your choice to use them. What he's saying is that it should be a choice. We should be informed about the long-term effects of what we're putting into our bodies. We should hear about the history and the research supporting the development of these drugs and their effectiveness. We should not be treated like parts of a machine on an assembly line as we're pushed through the medical system. He's saying that a non-conformist should neither be pathologized by the culture nor emotionally neutered and made to fit into an oppressive environment. He's saying that medication can make a person more compliant and conforming, but asks what being "normal" is really all about and who that "normalcy" serves. He's saying we should question the right of corporations to determine how and where we can find or experience pleasure and happiness in life, and encourages the exploration of approaches that don't involve spending money. I found this book to be insightful, reassuring, healing, comforting, and encouraging. Dr. Levine's perspective is humane, compassionate, holistic, and fits both traditional and liberal meanings of the term "tikkun olam" (to heal or repair the world.) - Sara Davies, co-author of Great is Peace: A Modern Commentary on Talmud Bavli Tractate Derek Eretz Zuta
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Agreed--a book that finally makes sense about depression, December 7, 2007
This review is from: Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Paperback)
This book is much more than a self-help book--the issue is bigger than any one individual. All of us, whether we're depressed ourselves or not, have been touched by depression through friends, family, and colleagues. This book helps make sense of it all and offers suggestions about how, collectively, we get on the road to recovery. I am recommending this book to people at every opportunity. Dr. Levine hits the nail on the head.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sorry to break up the 5 star party, March 30, 2010
This review is from: Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Paperback)
First off, I commend Dr. Levine for a book that is well articulated and somewhat helpful in giving our society a wake-up call for greater community. However, if you are severely depressed and not just suffering from general malaise, you will find very little relief by its reading. Early on in the book he references Irving Kirsch's study showing anti-depressants to be little or no more effective than a placebo. This study is increasing in popularity today with the publication of Kirsch's new book "The Emperor's New Drugs". If you are someone who is in agonizing psychological pain and on treatment with ADs, this can be a devastating blow to your recovery. As someone who has been on and off several ADs for a good part of his life, I know that these drugs do SOMETHING. They may even make you feel worse but they do affect the brain more than a sugar pill. We must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and assume that there is no biological basis for depression. Saying that today's ADs will be looked upon in the future like bloodletting is now does not help. Some criticism of the pharmaceutical companies is to be deserved but going overboard and attributing all of their R&D to avarice is absurd.

Overall Dr. Levine makes good points about the nature of our relationships to our family, colleagues and our corporations. But for people who are in the throes of deep depression, his solutions are something that seem many miles down the road. If you are mildly depressed or experiencing what is termed dysthymia then this book can offer some comfort and help you become active in creating a less depressed world or at least alter your surroundings and reach out and form bonds with like-minded individuals. If you are ravaged by depression then I would suggest "Understanding Depression" by J. Raymond DePaulo Jr. who is a doctor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent theory on depression, November 15, 2010
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This review is from: Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Paperback)
I am currently studying abnormal psychology in the college setting, and I purchased this book for research on my final term paper. I believe that Levine's theories on depression are some of the best I've read. For anyone suffering from this sometimes debilitating disorder, this book is a must read. The author points out how societal changes are not only causing depression but fueling it as well. This book is NOT based on theories of conspiracy. Levine offers gentle solutions for self healing as well as options for change as a culture. If the rat race has gotten you down, and keeping up with the Jones' is overwhelming you, then read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars depressed or demoralized?, March 21, 2013
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Wow...this book should be required reading by all people diagnosed with "depression" as well as those making the diagnosis - Since reading this book, I am less sad and more hopeful that there is a way out of the pain that doesn't include drugs. I will also be very careful about "labeling" people's behavior. Labels can be used for many reasons, amongst which include compliance and profit. In a world of round holes, there will be pain for square pegs...but only as long as they allow themselves to be forced into round holes. I think Mr. Levine is on to something.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book confirms my life experience, January 13, 2013
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I am now 30, and went through my 20's "blind". I fixed most of my problems, and kind of bought this book in hindsight... And it confirms what I thought was true! Kind of a reaffirming "A+" - I did everything right. Wish I had it 10 years earlier. But, I recommended it to two of my friends - hopefully they will find relief faster than I did. And yes - its not your fault, America's society sucks, but you build your own private paradise by taking control of your life and making meaningful relationships with good people around you. You can heal the pain - or, at least manage it.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The rate of depression in the U.S. has increased tenfold in the last fifty years, February 6, 2008
This review is from: Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy (Paperback)
The rate of depression in the U.S. has increased tenfold in the last fifty years, indicating an underlying social issue as well as a health challenge. Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy and Community in A World Gone Crazy surveys the roots of these issues, discussing how to revitalize depressed people and a depressing culture and offering insights on how to change ideas and behavior patterns. Both college-level holdings strong in psychology and general-interest lending libraries will find this a most accessible account identifying the foundations of societal depression and offering plenty of insights on how to combat it.

Diane C. Donovan
California Bookwatch
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Surviving America's Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy
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