The Key to the Prison (May 2003)

Friday, 01 April 2011 07:47

OpenMind - Journal of the mental health association MIND

May 2003


Dorothy Rowe

Isn’t it curious how a small event can change your life? In 1983 I was asked to give a lecture, and after it someone asked me a question, and, as a consequence my life, and the lives of some other people, changed.

At that time I was head of the Lincolnshire Department of Clinical Psychology and had written two books, both rather academic. These books were a result of my research into depression, something which interested me because I had been born to a depressed mother whose difficult behaviour had been the bane of my childhood. When I’d first trained as a clinical psychologist I’d been prepared to accept the medical view of depression, that it was a physical illness, but as I listened to my depressed clients, came to realise that they, like my mother, had certain strongly held beliefs which predisposed them to becoming depressed. I had reached a stage in my work where I could see a direct connection between these beliefs, a disaster in a person’s life and subsequent depression.

Such a view of depression wasn’t acceptable to the medical profession, but changes in the 1970s meant that people were far more ready to criticise the medical profession than they’d been in the past. That revolutionary decade saw the introduction and adaptation of ideas from the eastern philosophies of yoga and Zen, and from the ancient methods of natural health and alternative medicine. As a result many people were taking the care of their mental and physical welfare into their own hands. These changes penetrated even sleepy Lincolnshire. A group of people who were skilled in these methods formed a group to promote these new ideas, and in 1983 they invited me to give a public lecture on depression.

On the afternoon of the lecture I jotted down some brief notes on a piece of paper. My headings were ‘Definition of depression, The six beliefs which created the prison of depression, How pride prevented change, Living with a depressed person, How to dismantle the prison of depression’.

The audience for my lecture was hardly cheerful, but they did seem to be appreciative. The next day I went to Lincoln Market to shop and called in at Greens Health Food Shop where the manager, Mr Heath, told me that he’d enjoyed my lecture and asked, ‘Is that lecture in a book or pamphlet I could give to my customers?’

I explained that I’d just been talking from notes, but later, as I walked up Lincoln High Street, I realised that the notes I had scribbled down formed the outline of a book. decided to write this book, not as an academic study of depression, but as me talking to my clients and to their relatives and friends.

I sent the manuscript of the book to David Godwin who was then psychology editor at Routledge. He asked the advice of a colleague who had been deeply depressed, and she, having read it, advised him to publish it. A year later it was published, and shortly after it won the Mind Book of the Year Award, and my life changed for good.

Changing for good didn’t mean I suddenly became as rich as Jeffrey Archer, far from it, but the book sold steadily year after year. I study why we behave as we do, and such a study never comes to an end, so a second edition of the book was needed, and now a third edition. I know now why my mother behaved as she did, but the book has proved to be more than just me clarifying my ideas. It has indeed changed people’s lives.

Soon after the book was first published I began to be accosted by strangers after lectures I’d given or by mail saying accusingly, ‘You wrote that book about me.’ Disturbing though this accusation was, it did at least show that I wasn’t just writing about my own fantasies. Then came the people who’d say to me, ‘That book changed my life.’ Sometimes the person said, ‘That book saved my life.’ Sometimes I would ask, rather nervously, ‘For the better, I hope,’ but usually I could see the answer on the person’s face. It was an ordinary face and not the tight, chill mask of depression.

These people hadn’t been cured by magic. They’d read the book closely, thought about it, and faced what their depression had prevented them from facing. They’d turned my book into a key to unlock their prison of depression.

Dorothy Rowe Depression: The Way Out of Your Prison, third edition, Routledge, 2003.