Thompson, Tracy 1955-

views updated

Thompson, Tracy 1955-


Born August 22, 1955, in Atlanta, GA; married to a physicist; children: Emma, Sophie. Education: Emory University, B.A., 1977; Yale University, M.S.L.


Home—Washington, DC. Agent—Beth Vesel, c/o Sanford Greenburger Associates, 55 5th Ave., New York, NY 10003. E-mail—[email protected]


Freelance journalist and nonfiction writer. Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA, investigative reporter, 1981-89; Washington Post, Washington, DC, investigative reporter, 1989-96; Washington Post Magazine, part-time writer. Has given speeches on mental health issues.


Phi Beta Kappa.


Received fellowship at Yale, 1984; Pulitzer Prize finalist in investigative reporting, 1988, for a four-part series titled "Rural Justice" on racial disparities in Georgia courts; honored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill for her "lasting contributions to mental health issues," 1998; received a national reporting award, National Mental Health Association, 1999.


The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression, Putnam (New York, NY), 1995.

The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children, and Struggling with Depression, HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY), 2006.

The Beast was published in Germany and Japan, and has been included in the anthologies The Healing Circle, Plume Books (New York, NY), 1998, and Out of Her Mind: Women Writing on Madness, Random House (New York, NY), 2000. Also author of four-part series titled "Rural Justice."

Contributor to periodicals, including Esquire, Working Mother, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, O, and Reader's Digest.


Drawing from the journals she began keeping as a child, Tracy Thompson recounts her lifelong battle with the world's most common mental illness, clinical depression, in her 1995 book, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression.

Convinced that whatever was wrong was simply some "defect" of her personality, Thompson embarked on a lifetime of overachievement, trying to compensate for this inner conviction of her own worthlessness. Academic and journalistic success followed. So did her illness, recurring at fairly regular intervals throughout her twenties and thirties. In 1977, she began ten futile years of psychotherapy. Like many people with chronic depression, she abused alcohol and prescription drugs at times to cope with the debilitating anxiety which is often a feature of the illness. She also became expert in the art of deception; many of her closest friends and family had no true idea of the nature of her psychic demons.

Real help did not come until 1989, when a career move to the Washington Post coincided with the end of an intense love affair and she found herself on the brink of suicide. She was hospitalized—and there, for the first time, began to receive appropriate medical treatment. That included Prozac, the first of the new generation of drug treatments for depression.

Two years later, well on the road to recovery, Thompson decided that her own experience with depression was grist for a journalistic investigation, despite her fears that revealing her mental illness would harm her career. Her first-person account appeared in the Washington Post in October, 1992, sparking a huge reader response. New York Times Book Review contributor Sharon O'Brien wrote that Thompson "is lucky to enjoy a career where truth-telling is praised; many readers probably hold jobs where frankness about depression will not be tolerated, or so rewarded."

The Washington Post article formed the basis of The Beast, which was published in August, 1995. Serialized in Cosmopolitan and in the Washington Post Magazine, the book received favorable reviews. A Publishers Weekly critic deemed The Beast "a stunningly candid account" of Thompson's lifelong ordeal and suggested that her story "will give hope to readers suffering from mood disorders." Reviewer Elaine Kahn, writing in People, called The Beast "a frightening tale that will strike a nerve in anyone whose life has been touched by the agony of mental illness."

After continuing to suffer with depression after the births of her children, Thompson began working with Emory University researcher Sherryl Goodman to investigate how a mother's depression affects the entire family. The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children, and Struggling with Depression integrates the results of Thompson's research with her own experiences as well as recommendations for treatment. The book's personal anecdotes were described by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as "both a strength and weakness of the book; they're instructive, but the various voices become confusing at times." Lynne Maxwell noted in a Library Journal review that Thompson "manages to integrate multiple perspectives."

Thompson once told CA: "In the years since my book appeared, I've become more convinced than ever that this is an illness which touches the lives of most people in some way—either through personal experience or the experience of a loved one. Yet myths and misunderstandings still abound, social stigma persists, and health insurance discrimination is still a fact of life. We live in a time when science is making remarkable advances in the treatment of all kinds of mental illness, and nowhere is this more true than in the treatment of mood disorders. But the quickening scientific advance still outpaces society's traditional understanding of this illness. Those of us who have lived to tell the tale have an obligation to do our best to further public understanding."



Library Journal, June 15, 2006, Lynne Maxwell, review of The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children, and Struggling with Depression, p. 90.

Los Angeles Times, September 26, 1995, review of The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression, p. E6.

New York Times Book Review, October 1, 1995, Sharon O'Brien, review of The Beast, p. 16.

People, September 18, 1995, Elaine Kahn, review of The Beast, p. 42.

Publishers Weekly, July 3, 1995, review of The Beast, p. 43; May 22, 2006, review of The Ghost in the House, p. 42.


Tracy Thompson Home Page, (June 10, 2007).

About this article

Thompson, Tracy 1955-

Updated About content Print Article