Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression” as Want to Read:
Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  1,590 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
Unholy Ghost is a unique collection of essays about depression that, in the spirit of William Styron's Darkness Visible, finds vivid expression for an elusive illness suffered by more than one in five Americans today. Unlike any other memoir of depression, however, Unholy Ghost includes many voices and depicts the most complete portrait of the illness. Lauren Slater eloque ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 6th 2001 by William Morrow (first published 2001)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Unholy Ghost, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Unholy Ghost

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Oct 07, 2007 Colleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Depressed people and effected family and friends
I read this book while visiting my friends Kacy, Ben, and their six-month old adorable son, Miles, on the Oregon coast. Kacy and Ben are staying in Kacy's parents house. Her parents are visiting her brother in Japan.

I realize that this family history isn't necessary to explain my enjoyment of the book. What is crucial is that you imagine where and when I read it. The house is a soft brown cabin, shingles caressing every external surface. After playing with Miles, helping cook and eat, and talkin
I was so disappointed in this book. I constantly read essays, memoirs, fiction, and academic work on psychological issues and this seemed like a good addition to the pile. However, most of the essays were incredibly boring and had nothing to do with the experience of being depressed, except that they were solipsistic and uninteresting. One or two essays along the lines of “I’m a writer and depression has related to my writing in these ways” would have been nice, but at least 75 percent of the es ...more
KR (Karen)
Aug 31, 2010 KR (Karen) rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
22 essays by writers on depression:

Artists and writers are associated more often with depression with a tip of the hat to an assumed "artistic temperament". Perhaps the way that artists are able to express darkness through their work could make this seem true but a particular temperament assigned to creative careers is not supported by research. Artists have the same struggles with depression as the general population but they talk, write, and sing about it more.

I found Donald Hall's essay "Gho
Despite having an introduction from the fabulous Kay Jamison, this essay collection is incredibly mediocre. Many of the essays are poorly written or circle aimlessly around the same topics. With so many evocative accounts of depression in the world, this book was a big disappointment.
Nov 06, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Karen by: Stephen Haff
I found it deeply comforting to hear depression described in a literary way.
May 09, 2007 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
From "A Delicious Placebo" by Virginia Hefferman

I would say I was sick- sick with any ailment I could think of except "depression," which no one, no matter what the brochures with grainy girls' pictures and the word "reputable" say, will ever believe it is a real illness.

Overnight, it seemed, I'd gone from a twenty-eight-year old optimist, the type advertisers and politicians take into account, who might find a career and start a family, to a person who is unreliable and preoccupied, a person
Collection of 22 different writers discussing their experiences about depression. Many of the contributors have, at various times in their lives, had major depressive episodes. However, there were three different companion pieces written by loved ones affected second-hand by depression. As I have been battling a severe depressive episode as I read this, I could relate to many of the stories on a personal level. One of the biggest common themes between writers is that there are no words to accura ...more
Mar 19, 2011 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: depression
During the depths of a major depressive episode, this book felt like good company rather than something I probably should not be reading. Other than William Styron's "Darkness Visible," (which a part of is included here,) I don't know of many other books that have the power to bring empathy, compassion, and the mastery of the written word to bear on the existential devastation of clinical depression. Though each writer's story is unique, the sentiment of being on the outside of life is universal ...more
Not as good of a collection as I had hoped for. I thought the pieces were uneven in staying on topic. William Styron's excerpt from DARKNESS VISIBLE was, of course, the best piece, and his wife's essay on dealing with his depression was also quite interesting. The other essays really weren't all that compelling and amounted to a lot of navel-gazing.
Lisa M.
Apr 30, 2015 Lisa M. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, essay
When I buy books, I am generally buying them at used bookstores, library sales, or discount book sellers. I take home huge hauls, shelve them, and refer to my collection over the upcoming months. My love of books combined with my frugal nature prevents me from purchasing full-price books very often. This type of book purchasing does have it's downside, however. I go into a book frenzy. If a book has a low price sticker on it and is even related to a topic I like, I buy it. The second thoughts on ...more
Jul 06, 2008 Cindi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people with depression or with a loved one who struggles with depression
I'll start by saying that this book had some language and some sexual innuendo. I don't usually plug through a book with either of these, but in this case, I did because I could tell that I was learning some important things. I give it a high rating because of what I feel I take away from the book. I must say that for me, reading a book about depression is DEPRESSING! a sentiment expressed by one of the essay writers!

I have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember. I think it goes
Toby Elliott
this was pretty intense. especially "noontimes" by lauren slater, and obviously the contribution by russell banks. so many of these stories lead to medication, or some kind of medical treatment (in two of them, ECT is used and somewhat astonishingly, both are reported as successful) which gives one pause, but it shouldn't be taken as a book about drugs. there is an excerpt from "darkness, visible" by william styron in the book, and it is one of the best sections to include in this anthology: sty ...more
Feb 10, 2011 Becca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book of essays is not merely a collection of sad stories from depressed artists, but rather an exploration of all sides of the illness-- from inside and outside, from before and after, from searching to knowing. That's what makes it so incredible.

I have read many collections and memoirs of madness, and few have successfully painted a full picture of depression in a way that isn't contrived. Unholy Ghost successfully dodges that easy trap by allowing each writer to enter the subject from a d
A few excellent essays, a couple of horrible ones, and most residing somewhere in between. Some of the essays were first-hand accounts of depression, some second-hand accounts, and some by people with seemingly no relationship to depression whatsoever.

I almost abandoned the book halfway through Suzanna Kaysen's essay, which was abysmal. She actually says: "I don't think [depression]'s so bad. I think depression and despair are reasonable reactions to the nature of life." And she decries people w
Mar 27, 2011 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I highly recommend this to people either struggling with depression, as I have, or to people who know depressives. It's a great insight to see into a very dark cave that depression is. To me it's like a reverse Plato's cave--where the cave is dark and on the wall there are shadows/slivers of light and I want to lift my hand to snatch the light but can't seem to move or understand why I'm in the cave to begin with.

This is also a great book for creative souls who struggle with depression. It lifts
Apr 11, 2010 Kristen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recommend this book to people who know anyone coping with a mental illness. Many of the stories began long before the pharmaceuticals came up with funny cartoons and purple pills, but the symptoms and the struggles are the same. The stories offer comfort to people with mental illness -- a kind of community. Most writers coped with not wanting to take medication, symptoms of depression exacerbated by solitude even when solitude felt like the right medicine, and the guilt of seeing partners and ...more
Sep 04, 2015 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine
An interesting look at the various faces of depression and the attempts to express the inexpressible by people who normally express things well. Certain of the stories rang true or struck close to home for me; certain others didn't. I had to take this a little bit at a time, because the overwhelming stories of depression are not the best reading material for a time when you are overwhelmed and even depressed. But I learned a few things, most important, that I am not alone in the things I experie ...more
A mixed bag collection of essays about depression. Some essays are interesting, thought provoking, insightful and well-written; others seem like rough drafts. Some seem like magazine articles. Most have vague endings with not a lot of conclusions. I did like that it was many different stories/perspectives/authors so if one story was not written well or not great there was always another one to read.
Mar 24, 2012 Ie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of the time, someone talks about the morning or the night: how illuminating it is, how cold, how short, etc. I guess it's always about the outside as a way in, it being a metaphor—a transit—to inside. I started of partial, and ended almost the same, except for a few essays that made me look for a hole beneath me. I do not think I'm depressed, but it is a possibility, considering how skinless I've been lately.
Aug 26, 2008 Rikki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not one who usually enjoys compilations of short stories or essays, but such a collection is perfect for this topic. It gives a face to the often unspoken world of depression, and when it is difficult for author's to describe, no wonder it is for the rest of the world! Situations in here are as varied as the author's themeselves, and everyone can learn a little something from what they have to say.
Joan Opyr
Jul 22, 2008 Joan Opyr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It seems counterintuitive that reading about depression could be uplifting, but I found this book oddly comforting. In particular, I gained a lot of insight from Donald Hall's account of wife Jane Kenyon's battle with bipolar disorder. Kenyon wrote the brilliant poem, Having It Out With Melancholy. No one has ever described the oppressive, unrelenting nature of depression better.
Kevin Krein
so every year in our community, some well to do middle age white women, organize a community reading event; meaning that they pick a book, a bunch of people who live in the town are encouraged to read it, then they have events based around the book (discussions, et. al.)

two years ago the topic was immigration and last year it was poverty- again, subjects well to do middle age white women are subject matter experts on. anyway, this year, they opted to cover mental health, and for the reading, the
Andrea Arbit
I was hoping for more out of this book (but then, I suppose some say the same about depression, which is often romanticized, connected with loving and losing and writing and creating and living, but is, in truth, awful and all-encompassing and mundane in its everydayness).

One of the problems with this book was the lack of diversity of its writers. Nearly all of them were white and middle-to-upper class, and nearly all had grown up in and were still living on the East Coast. There weren't many di
Mar 06, 2013 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Several essays were illuminating, the way in which the writers conveyed their histories of depression (or melancholy, as a few preferred to call it). The latter certainly has a lyrical, forlorn quality that depression lacks, and I agree with some of the reasons given for preferring it (if interested, check out its origins in the OED). I just realized I used the term, "illuminating," in describing some of these works; it's revealing because to anyone who has lived with it, depression at its bleak ...more
Feb 22, 2009 Pat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing-books
Edited by Nell Casey, this collection of twenty-two essays by contemporary American and European writers explores the many faces of depression. Rather than a medical guide of what constitutes depression or a depressive episode these essays vividly portray each writer’s experience of depression.
The link between the depressed person and their family member is explored as Casey includes her personal essay entitled Wish You Were Here. Her essay illuminates the role of caregiver to her sister’s bi-p
Feb 27, 2010 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing book. I really enjoyed the way I learned about depression from the viewpoint of different writers; the way each one shared their experience and I related to their words and their minds; the way each essay was unique to its approach and that I didn't necessarily agreed with all of the writers. Nell Casey certainly chose the exact writers for the compilation of this book.

David Karp's experiences certainly related to the phases of my own illness, but it was Nancy Mairs experien
There is great utility to this collection of essays for a select audience but there are a lot of caveats as well. If you work in the field of mental health, the first hand descriptions of the depression experience are well worth reading, though (caveat #1) they reflect a serious lack of diversity in both background of the writers and the viewpoints expressed. The essays are generally well written though and if you work with a caseload of white, middle class, intellectually gifted and well educat ...more
Jalen Anderson
Jun 16, 2016 Jalen Anderson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read Styron's infamous Darkness Visible, I figured why not take on another read into the dark side of human experience. I was not disappointed, as this was a pretty good collection. The book was obviously biased towards women, and I grew tired of reading some of their experiences, many of which were repetitive and gave the impression that their depression just stemmed from hormonal imbalances more than anything else. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable compilation of individual experiences t ...more
Trina Y
If you only look at the amount of time it took me to read this, it might indicate a disinterest or lack of compelling essays, but it more had to do with my own reasons for choosing the book (like, being a writer with depression lol). I felt it was something I needed to finish but struggled through - it was a bit emotionally draining at times. Some essays were in fact a little boring or outdated (and though there were similarities in our struggles I sometimes couldn't connect with older, White ma ...more
May 27, 2012 Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dark and descriptive short stories/essays of different writers' experiences with clinical depression. The stories are heart wrenching and give an intimate, and palpable understanding of what each writer experienced. One would have to go through a experience akin to these experiences to fully know what it means to be afflicted with such a parasitic, life draining poison that is severe depression. For those suffering it can be helpful to know or be reminded that one is not alone in their afflictio ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface
  • November of the Soul: The Enigma of Suicide
  • Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression
  • Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness
  • Welcome to My Country
  • Against Depression
  • Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide
  • A Mood Apart: The Thinker's Guide to Emotion and Its Disorders
  • The Suicidal Mind
  • The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression
  • Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival
  • Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital
  • Life Inside: A Memoir
  • Why People Die by Suicide
  • Is There No Place on Earth for Me?
  • Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn't Teach You and Medication Can't Give You
  • A Shining Affliction: A Story of Harm and Healing in Psychotherapy
  • Beyond Blue: Surviving  Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes

Share This Book

“For many people, depression is an abrupt change in an otherwise full and happy life. It emerges suddenly and devastates by its very strangeness and pathology.” 3 likes
“My life felt so cluttered and obstructed that I could hardly breathe. I inhabited a closed, concentrated world, airless and without exits.” 2 likes
More quotes…