"Standing in the Shadows: Understanding and Overcoming Depression in Black Men" by John Head (Broadway Books, $22.95)

The niche self-help title of journalist John Head's book is a bit of a disguise for a work that is at turns a poignant memoir of his own battle with depression and a rallying cry for a community effort to confront a problem that he describes as "modern-day slavery."

Taking his cue from then-surgeon general David Satcher's 1999 report on mental illness, Head notes that African American males fall into two subgroups less likely to acknowledge mental illness in themselves (blacks) and to seek treatment for those or other medical problems (men). The bulk of the book is taken up with Head's exploration of the social and cultural underpinnings of the black community against the backdrop of his own lifelong battle with manic depression, for which he sought treatment only after suffering a "meltdown" at age 45 in 1996.

Where Head writes most evocatively, and where his story seems most universal, is in his description of the toll his illness took on his relationships with his wife and his three sons. He writes with palpable regret about his gradual withdrawal from the people and things he loved as depression and anxiety overwhelmed him.

A publishing commonplace used with arresting effect in the book is the quotation as chapter introduction, in this case using blues lyrics. By the time you get to the last one, "All around me there's a solid wall. A wall of trouble and confusion, I done tired of it all. I believe, I believe I've been blue too long," you get the idea that the blues is basically a centuries-old cry for help. Too many people, Head suggests, wrongly see the kind of suffering sung about in such songs as endemic to life as a black person in America.

The self-help portion of the book comes only at the end, and it is relatively brief but potentially useful for those in and beyond the target audience. It includes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) list of symptoms for diagnosing depression, as well as advice on how to seek treatment and a list of organizations that can provide more information, many of them specific to blacks and other minority groups.

-- Gregory Mott