I love reading about mental health, I love characters who feel real to me who can educate others about all the different experiences. My Mum once asked me if it made me more depressed to read about others and it really doesn’t. On a bad day it might be a little bit more difficult but I’ll put the book down and do something else and go back later on. When I read these books I feel educated about other illnesses or other symptoms, I’m reminded that this is just a PART of a person, not everything about them and I feel comforted, like being in some kind of family of people who understand. One day I aim to write my own book about mental health, I have ideas for both fiction and nonfiction, but I’ll let you know more about that when I manage to start it! The books listed aren’t in any particular author but I loved them all and they each taught me something. Enjoy!
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
As my regular readers know I absolutely adore Sylvia Plath, so much so I wrote my Undergraduate dissertation on her work (see here if you want to know more!). Plath is known as much for her suicide as her work, which is a sad fact. The Bell Jar, however, was focused on Plath’s younger life as a college student who’s confused to say the least and the impact this has on her mental health. Few novels have spoken to me in the way this one has, one of my ultimate favourites, written in a time where women couldn’t speak about mental illness, but Sylvia defied them all.
Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
Haig’s book is recent but now well known. This book is for not only people living with a mental health condition but also for their loved ones. The tone of the book is refreshingly honest and open, imagining conversations between past and present self and really showing you that life is worth living, even if it tries to kick your butt. See my review here.
Brave Girl Eating- Harriet Brown
Memoirs like this appear to be few and far between, while we’re used to reading memoirs from survivors of eating disorders it’s uncommon to read the perspective of the family around them. Brave Girl Eating is written by a mother who is watching her daughter starve herself to death, it’s about trying to understand and support her while dealing with her own emotions and caring for the rest of her family. An incredible book I could not recommend enough.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini
The first YA novel in this list, Vizzini really understood what he was writing about and how to portray it. The best thing about this novel is the way in which recovery was written about and how people hide their illness. Lovable characters and a great ending too. Read my review here.
All of the Above – Juno Dawson
This novel really reminded me of the importance of friends in the face of mental illness. I’m a firm believer that having friends who have been mentally ill is one of the most precious things, having someone that understands and has been through what you’re going through is such a relief. Dawson takes us on a rollercoaster of emotions with this novel I laughed, I cried and I loved all of the characters. A definite must read.
The Time In Between – Nancy Tucker
Nancy’s memoir of life with an eating disorder was both charming and fascinating. I also admired the fact that she refused to use numbers in the memoir, as she didn’t want it to encourage anyone else with an eating disorder, she is very mindful of this. The book goes through not only Nancy’s fight and recovery but also the reasons behind her eating disorder as she understands what they are. Wonderfully written and well thought out too.
The Skeleton Cupboard – Tanya Byron
Another memoir that shows a fascinating perspective. We often forget that mental health professionals are people too. The novel follows the now well known Tanya Byron’s early years training to be a clinical psychologist dealing with the reason she chose this path, her patients, supervisors and the emotional hardships of doing this work. It made me really think of all the people working in mental health and appreciate all that they have to go through.
The Illustrated Mum – Jacqueline Wilson
Wilson never shied away from dealing with difficult subjects in children’s novels. The Illustrated Mum was my first encounter with mental illness in literature, of course I didn’t really understand at the time but I just accepted that the Mum was poorly. That was that. The older I get I realise how heartbreaking this book was and how much it might help children with mentally ill parents to know they’re not alone. Dolphin and Star’s Mum has tattoos all over her body, a big temper and the girls manage as best as they can with her various moods, as an older reader I now understand that the Mum has Bipolar Disorder. These kind of books teach kids about different people and situations, I think Wilson’s books made me the empathic person I am today. Even as an adult this is worth a read.
Wishful Drinking and Shockaholic – Carrie Fisher
For my last two I have included Carrie Fisher’s memoirs. They’ve had mixed reviews on amazon and goodreads but personally I loved them. Carrie talks openly about shock therapy, the influence her childhood had and the life she lived alongside having undiagnosed bipolar disorder. The best part though is Carrie’s humor, I like it when people can still have humor talking about mental health, because we’re still people and it’s about knowing what’s appropriate. The only downside to these is that they’re short, I’d love to have known more BUT these were also used when Carrie went on tour with them so I understand. Either way for me humor is vital in defeating low days and Carrie certainly has a lot of it!