Depression affects 18 million Americans at any given time, one in five over a lifetime. It has doubled since World War II, and since the 1950s, the beginning of the anti-depressant age, suicides have increased 300 per cent. Those born in 1960 are about 20 times as likely to suffer from depression than were their grandparents. In this well-written memoir, Jeffery Smith recounts his experiences as an over-medicated chronic depressive. In the 1990s while living in Missoula, Montana, and working as a case manager at a community mental health center, the author seeks treatment from a homeopathic physician, undergoes psychotherapy, and tries to understand this ancient illness.

Smith discovers that what mystics called "the dark night of the soul" was for Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross a healing form of melancholia. Turning to the ministrations of the natural world, books, and music, the author reframes his depression and sees it as an agent of change. Smith experiences great homesickness in the West and eventually moves back to Ohio where his family lived for over 200 years. Love and marriage also help the author turn his life around. Where the Roots Reach for Water provides a rich harvest of insights about the personal and cultural landscape of chronic depression and its potential to become a spiritual teacher to those in its embrace.