Social Issues in Literature: Depression

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Depression is one of the most common social and emotional problems around the world. One in five people will experience major depression at some point in their lives. Women are especially susceptible (especially after childbirth), but everyone can and does succumb to periods of discouragement for any number of reasons.

Because depression is such a part of life these days, it is incredibly common in literature and in nonfiction. The first books I thought of were The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (which I haven’t read) and The Hours by Michael Cunningham (which I loved, but which was, naturally, depressing). There are also many memoirs out there, some of which I’ve read and others that I haven’t. I don’t want to list all the books out there about depression and suicide. That’s depressing. When we’re thinking about the social problem of depression, those books might not help us. In approaching this meme, I wanted to focus on inspiring books that might help us through the depressing times in our lives.

Here are some books that won’t tell you about depression, but rather may give hope to those struggling with depression or other mental illness.


The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

A lonely man moves to New Foundland with his daughter. Here, he makes a friend and learns about hope. I read this during a time when I was depressed, and while the struggles and subject matter could be disturbing, in the end I was inspired by the message of hope.


The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom is a Christian woman in Holland that hides Jews in her home during World War II. When she is sent to a concentration camp, she must struggle to keep her faith and practice forgiveness. I find this an inspiring look at the power of forgiveness in our lives.

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Jewish psychologist Frankl spends more than five years in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Here, he must determine why he wants to live. Again, he asks questions we all should consider.

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

After his wife died, C.S. Lewis kept four journals in which he reviewed his own doubts about himself and his life. He must regain his bearings. (This is the book on which the movie Shadowlands is based, which I haven’t seen for years but remember liking.)

Have you read a book that inspired you through hard times? I’m interested in adding to this list, and it was hard to find inspiring books. If you have an inspiring book to add, leave a comment and I’ll add it to the list.

Note: I believe that talking with friends, family, or professionals can greatly help if you are feeling depressed. There are also medications that can help. If your blues last longer than two weeks and affect your daily life, you may be depressed. While books might help you, don’t rely on them alone. If you are depressed, seek help. Hold on to hope. You can and you will feel better. I know from experience.

Reviewed on May 21, 2008

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I read Rose Garden years and years ago. While I’m not clear on a lot of the details any longer, I still remember it as a pretty intense book.


  • I read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden in high school and really enjoyed it. If I remember right, though, it was about schizophrenia rather than depression.

  • @CJHill:

    I’ll have to read it now. Like I said, I don’t like listing or recommending books unless I’ve read them, so this may have been a mistake. Thanks for your comment!

  • @dew:

    It’s interesting to me how so many aspects of mental illness come back to feelings of depression. I think I’m going to have to read this. Thanks for your comment.

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