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The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015.

by Justin Simon, M.D.

It all began when a very talented writer inexplicably fell prey to the Noonday Demon, an excruciating state of depression, initiating an odyssey of which this book is the issue. The report is permeated with the victim’s relentless honesty, curiosity, and passion to understand his own fall and to share the fruits of his scholarly journey. It is a pretty remarkable journey, and both treaters and sufferers of depression alike stand to gain from it. Perhaps others as well.

The book sparkles with the author’s adventures as an intrepid investigator. He traveled to Cambodia to discern the aftereffects of the Khmer Rouge horrors and to Greenland to study depression among the Inuit Eskimos. He went to Senegal to partake of ndeup, an elaborate animist ritual cure that required five dancing native women, five drummers, and Solomon’s lying naked with a ram who was slaughtered, being covered with the animal’s blood, and participating in a celebratory feast of the animal’s flesh. He conversed with depressed people who were indigent and visited state mental hospitals. He took cocaine, smoked opium, swallowed Ecstasy, sky-dove, and did Outward Bound. He witnessed his mother’s self-induced euthanasia and reports on the antidepressant effects of committing an act of violence in a fit of rage.

… Solomon believes that his depression taught him the value of intimacy, tolerance, and his own compelling need to help others. I doubt that he is now the same man who once lost himself in a fit of violence. He summarizes: “I do not love my depression, but I love who I am in the wake of it.” That person is alive, intelligent, generative, and kind; however he got that way, he commands our admiration and appreciation for this valuable book.

(To read the full review, please visit the American Journal of Psychiatry.)