Reading books about mental health can be a great way to gain a new perspective, either of your own situation, or someone else’s.
Even before my own diagnosis, I loved reading them. I find them fascinating and since being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, my love for them has only grown.
1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky
As of this year, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is 20 years old! I can’t believe it. Anyway, that’s not the point but I had to have a moment.
It is a coming-of-age book which tackles a range of issues, including drugs, sexuality and mental health. Though this is primarily a work of fiction, it did stem from the author’s own struggles.
The story is told through Charlie’s letters to an unknown friend. It follows Charlie as he navigates life as an introvert while also dealing with the aftermath of two traumatic experiences. The books documents his growth and the relationships he forms along the way.
Other characters in the book are dealing with their own difficulties, too. Through these individuals, Stephen Chbosky explores more complex issues, such as childhood abuse and domestic violence. With that in mind, there may be aspects of this book which are triggering for some, so I would like advise being cautious before you dive in.
I don’t want to say too much about it, but I think Charlie is a very relatable character for individuals who are introverts, deep thinkers and/or struggling with their mental health.
This is my all time favourite book. Charlie is the character I relate to the most in anything. Though I haven’t dealt with some of the experiences he has, our personalities are closely aligned.
2. Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig
At the age of 24, Matt Haig went through a serious depressive episode. His book, Reasons to Stay Alive, shares his journey to recovery.
Matt writes honestly about mental illness, but with an air of optimism. For me, he strikes the perfect balance between emotional and uplifting.
One of the strengths, for me, is that this is written by a male. It can often be harder for men to talk about mental illness, so Matt’s openness sets a wonderful example. Other books in this list have male characters, but I think a non-fiction work by a male is particularly beneficial.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is having a difficult time. I recognised myself in so many parts of the book and I have mentioned before that this was the catalyst that led to my diagnosis.
3. Notes on a Nervous Planet – Matt Haig
Yep, Matt Haig is securing another place on this list. He’s just that good.
Notes on a Nervous Planet holds a magnifying glass to the world we live in and the impact it’s having on our mental health. With constant connection, news at our fingertips and work only an email away, is it any wonder so many of us are feeling overwhelmed?
Throughout the book, he highlights various issues in today’s society, as well as offering advice on how to feel better about it all. It’s one of those books that I finished and thought “everyone needs to read this.”
It is both compelling and calming. Whether you have a mental illness or not, I have no doubt that you will recognise some of your own thoughts and behaviours in this one. As Matt says himself, it is a global issue.
4. It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini
This follows the story of Craig Gilner. He becomes overwhelmed by the pressures of attending a prestigious school, despite having worked hard to get there. This manifests as an eating disorder, disrupted sleep patterns and suicidal thoughts.
He is given a prescription for Zoloft. As the medication takes effect, he thinks his problems are solved and stops taking it. Unfortunately, this means his depression resurfaces. He calls a suicide hotline and is admitted to a psychiatric unit.
Upon his arrival, Craig is shocked by the place. He doesn’t feel like he should be there. Nevertheless, he stays to receive treatment. He confronts the causes of his anxiety and begins his journey to recovery.
During this process, Craig discovers a natural talent for art. He identifies that this is something he enjoys, and his counsellor suggests he transfers to an art school.
In my opinion, this book has several strengths. The first of these is that it highlights how there can be a lot of academic pressure on students – a topic I have discussed previously in Are Smart Children More Prone to Depression as Adults?. Secondly, I think it shows how dangerous it can be to just stop taking anti-depressants. It is common for people to fall into the trap of thinking they no longer need their meds when they are, in fact, the reason they feel okay again. Finally, I think it gives a subtle nod to how creatives can feel trapped in traditional routes.
Similarly to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this is a fictional book, but it is based heavily on the author’s experiences. Ned Vizzini was in an adult psychiatric unit in 2004, which served as the inspiration for this book. Heartbreakingly, in 2013, Ned Vizzini took his own life.
5. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
I know this has received a lot of hype, but I believe it is justified. I read this shortly before it really took off and was EVERYWHERE, which may have helped me appreciate it more. It’s understandable that highly acclaimed books, films and albums can often be disappointing.
That said, I think Gail Honeyman draws attention to the fact we don’t always realise when we’re in a dark place – particularly if it’s all we’ve known for a long time.
In Eleanor’s opinion, she’s fine. Despite the fact most of her existence is spent in isolation, she sees no issue with this and seems content in her own company. However, as you read through the book, details emerge of a troubling past.
Eleanor feels very real and relatable. She is someone any of us could be, or could know. I think this book definitely draws attention to the fact we sometimes need to look a little deeper. Both at the people around us, and at ourselves. Not everything is as it seems on the surface.
Seen as though I (rightfully) gave Matt Haig two spaces in this list, here’s a bonus:
6. Depression in a Digital Age – Fiona Thomas
I follow Fiona on Instagram, where she often uses her stories to discuss how she’s feeling that day as well as other mental health issues. She is someone I respect a great deal.
Her book is all very familiar to me, as my own story with mental illness mimics hers. Though there are differences in some of the details, the overarching theme is the same: that depression can swoop in and knock you off your feet, but that recovery is possible.
Much like myself, Fiona has been able to connect with several important people due to her online presence. Blogging has been hugely significant in my journey, and it was wonderful to read a similar story.
Fiona’s writing is a joy to read. She is honest and engaging. I think she gives invaluable insight into what it’s like to be caught in the transition between an analogue world and a digital one. She addresses both the positives and the negatives of social media in a way that so many of us would relate to.
Though I think this would be suitable for anybody with, or interested in, mental illness, I think it’s an especially good read for bloggers.