BY LISA MARIE BASILE
As World Mental Health Day trends across social media, I’ve felt both sorrowful and appreciative. On one hand, it’s hard to see just how many people suffer with various forms of mental illness. On the other, I know intimately how damaging it can be to shame and silence those who suffer, and I’m glad we’re changing that. That suffering can be passed down, internalized, neglected. It rots away at us, our families, our communities, and our cultures.
It seems we will always battle with mental illness, whether it’s chemical or triggered by one’s experiences, or both—but there are options. From medication to mindfulness, from simply speaking as a way to release the albatross, to learning to work with your own triggers and cycles (I think of it as intuiting when the sea is coming to flood shore), everyone will explore different approaches, unique to their needs.
And if we are always fighting against the illness, the least we can do is create an judgment-free and compassionate environment for one another.
I recently received The 10-Step Depression Relief Workbook: A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Approach, written by Simon Rego, Psy. D. and Sarah Fader, my friend and also the creator of Stigma Fighters. The book creates that environment.
I was so glad to have received it as well, as I’ve always lived with a lingering anxiety and depression. My mental health challenges are deeply tied to life changes and times of powerlessness, rooted in my past: As a kid, both of my parents suffered with addiction, and we lived in homeless shelters and then we went into foster care. I’ve come to recognize what may set my depression and anxiety off (moving home or job, being thrown for a loop, not feeling cared for or supported), and living with these issues is like walking on a tight rope. I’ve come to force myself to understand that it’s all a balancing act, and that that’s just the truth. That said, I’m grateful to have been able to manage my symptoms.
When I received this book, I was in the middle of a move. Perfect, right? I hadn’t fallen into the depths, but I was feeling it. That undercurrent, its surging, its quiet little hum. And so, I turned to the workbook, which I appreciated very much because of its kindness and its approach.
First off, the book starts off with an intro that makes it clear that depression is a real illness—not just a bit of melancholy that sometimes makes us feel blue. It also notes the very real risks of depression—including the physical. Because chronic depression can lead to heart attacks, diabetes and stroke—all of which have been verified by science.
Next, it discusses the barriers to treatment that many people and countries face—limited access to therapy, medical treatments, or a lack of trained healthcare providers. (Just take a look at this study around the prevalence of Brazilians living without depression treatment). For this reason, the workbook uses a cognitive behavioral therapy step-by-step approach, which can help find a workaround to some of those barriers. It specifically mentions that it may be best suited for those with mild depression or people who are hesitant about medical treatment.
Written in a friendly and clear voice, it helps the reader first get honest with themselves: What is depression, what are the symptoms? What are your symptoms? It also offers some glimpses of Sarah's own experiences—and asks the reader to share theirs. This feels very much like a loving conversation rooted in both gentleness and serious action.
It then moves to discussing the therapeutic process—and CBT, which offers action items for managing depression. CBT, defined, means, "Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts. Unlike traditional Freudianpsychoanalysis, which probes childhood wounds to get at the root causes of conflict, CBT focuses on solutions, encouraging patients to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior."
The book goes on to discuss other therapies as well, just so you know the differences—which I appreciated. Following chapters include recognizing and workshopping problem areas (like replacing negative thoughts, and enhancing objective thoughts), making a plan for yourself, learning to not procrastinate when it comes to tasks and self-care, and learning to develop lifestyle skills and finding gratitude.
What I like most about the book is that it very much sounds like a kind and objective friend who wants you to help yourself and be happy, in whatever small step feels right for you. Its focus on both the short-term (immediate behaviors) and the long-term (learning mindfulness and maintaining wellness, even when not depressed), is important. The fact that is acts as both a triage and a holistic coach is so key, I think. This helps the reader get some relief while thinking about the bigger picture.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to peer inward, discover healthful and pragmatic tools to manage depression and create a step-by-step approach to taking action.
I also recommend checking out CEO Sarah Fader's Stigma Fighters, which is a mental health non-profit organization (founded in 2014) dedicated to helping real people living with mental illness.
As the site says, "There are teachers, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, actors, writers all living with mental illness. These are the stories that need to be told; the people who seem to be “regular” or “normal” people but are actually hiding a big secret. They are living with an invisible illness. They are struggling to function like the rest of society. It is Stigma Fighters’ mission to raise awareness for people who are seemingly “normal” but actually fighting hard to survive. If you are living with mental illness and you want to share your story, please fill in the form HERE. We look forward to fighting the stigma of mental illness one story at a time."
i hope that whatever your path, and whatever pain you're feeling, you take the time to care for yourself. You deserve it.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding creative director of Luna Luna Magazine--a digital diary of literature, magical living and idea. She is the author of "Light Magic for Dark Times," a modern grimoire of inspired rituals and daily practices. She's also the author of a few poetry collections, including the forthcoming "Nympholepsy." Her work encounters the intersection of ritual and wellness, chronic illness, magic, overcoming trauma, and creativity, and she has written for The New York Times, Narratively, Grimoire Magazine, Sabat Magazine, The Establishment, Refinery 29, Bust, Hello Giggles, and more. Lisa Marie earned a Masters degree in Writing from The New School and studied literature and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Eliezer Tristan Publishing Company, where she is dedicated to sharing the words of authors who endure and survive trauma and mental illness. She is also the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.
Dr. Simon Rego, a licensed clinical psychologist with close to 20 years of experience in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based psychological treatments, is currently Chief Psychologist, Director of Psychology Training, and Director of the CBT Training Program at Montefiore Medical Center and an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York