Having just finished National Eating Disorders awareness week (February 26th – March 4th, 2017) and now entering Self- Harm awareness month (March 1st – 31st, 2017) it seems essential to highlight mental health and learn as much as possible about some of these often debilitating disorders and illnesses. Where better to turn to than books? Naturally. There is a fundamental need for understanding mental illness so that we can challenge the stigma and fight for awareness. Here are some of my top picks on mental health in literature that make me feel like 1) you are not alone, 2) that someone out there gets you, and 3) you don’t have to suffer in silence. In my opinion there is just not enough literature out there on mental health. Everyone who suffers from poor mental health or encounters friends or family with mental health witnesses and experiences the effects. These authors have taken huge steps in trying to explain through words these totally unique journeys and I applaud them for doing so.
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
First published in 1963, the semi–autobiographical novel has become a classic known for Plath’s brutally honest depiction of her own depression. The novel sees the steady emotional and psychological breakdown of Esther Greenwood an immensely talented, brilliant and beautiful soul. Plath delivers the story with such intensity allowing for reader’s to feel fully immersed in Esther’s darkness. This novel has earned its place on the list for me because I found it so interesting to see the difference in treatment methods then and now. The novel delves deep into the human psyche and was such an accomplishment having been written so early on.
Mad Girl – Bryony Gordon
Bryony Gordon celebrates both life and mental illness in this personal journey speaking out about suffering with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, drug dependency and bulimia. She approaches these relationships as only she can while bringing comfort to those who fear they are alone in their madness. Gordon’s voice is frank, charismatic and darkly amusing. Gordon is constantly challenging her illness being a hugely successful columnist for the Telegraph, a best selling author, a married mother and the founder of mental health mates. I think it is such an important mental health read because it taught me that people get by and exceed expectations.
Don’t Panic: Taking Control of Anxiety attacks – R. Reid Wilson
All I can say really is that this self-help book is filled with hope. Hope for those consumed by overwhelming panic, anxiety and stress. Wilson, a psychologist and an internationally recognized specialist in the treatment of panic and anxiety disorders delivers this book with passion and insight. I approached this book at first to help myself understand a friend suffering from anxiety. However, it also helped me to take a step back and be more mindful in times of stress, anxiety and panic, something I only suffer from when my mental health is at its worse.
Furiously Happy: A funny book about horrible things – Jenny Lawson
‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ This is exactly why this hilariously funny memoir about crippling depression and anxiety by Jenny Lawson earns its place on this list. Sometimes it takes someone like Lawson to shine a happy and yet still thought-provoking light on suffering from mental illness. However, if as a reader you find it hard to handle humour and silliness in relation to mental health this might not be the book for you.
Thin – Grace Bowman
Thin is an honest and powerful look at the effects anorexia and bulimia have on the sufferer and the people around them. Bowman’s own account is written with candid intimacy and her opening line is something that strongly resonated with me: “If I tell you a secret, do you promise to tell the whole world?” This book might not change or cure like a lot of self help books, but it does offer another point of view, something that should be celebrated.
Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher
Thirteen Reasons Why is the captivating debut novel by Asher. It tells the story of Clay Jenson who finds a shoebox of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker. His friend, classmate and crush, the only problem is Hannah Baker committed suicide 2 weeks ago. If you’re like me then you will most probably cry whilst reading this book. You’ll think about your actions as a friend and what effect they might have on people and in the end you might also find yourself saying thank you.
All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven
Niven’s poignant YA novel tells the heartbreaking story of two broken teenagers Theodore Finch and Violet Markey grappling with suicidal thoughts and depression. Together they find all the bright places they want and need. Niven confronts the possibilities of love in the face of mental illness. This novel is incredible emotional but important in depicting the rollercoaster that is mental health.
The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer
Nathan Filer has created a compelling and deeply moving novel about Matthew, a young man who suffers from schizophrenia. I am no expert on schizophrenia but I feel this novel is utterly convincing and interestingly the narrative shifts when Matthew is on and off medication. Filer delivers the story with a great deal of respect for mental health and that is what I admire. It is no wonder the book won so many awards.
It’s Kind of a funny story – Ned Vizzini
Sadly, Vizzini lost the battles with his demons, committing suicide in 2013. What he left behind is this wonderful novel that is kind of a funny story. Craig Gilner, realizes he isn’t so clever and in fact average at his new school in New York, driving him to unbearable stress causing a lack of sleeping and eating. Furthermore, leading to a decline in mental health that sees Craig checked into a psychiatric ward. On the ward he meets new friends suffering from a wide variety of disorders and is able to confront all his anxieties. This book feels so authentic to me as someone who clearly is writing from experience writes it.
This list is by no means extensive and I wish there was more space to write about all of them so I have put together a small honourable mentions list below.
Every last word – Tamara Ireland Stone
My age of anxiety – Scott Stossel
Hyperbole and a Half – Allie Brosh
Winter girls – Laurie Halse Anderson
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness – Kay Redfield Jamison
(Image: The Edge)