My top 10 favourite books about mental illness

My top 10 favourite books about mental illness

10. I Was Here – Gayle Forman (2015)

This book tells the story of a young girl’s struggle to understand her best friend’s death. Despite the hard evidence (be warned – this book may be upsetting to some readers), Cody refuses to accept that Meg was depressed or committed suicide, and instead looks for something, or someone, to blame for taking her friend away. This heartbreaking novel therefore explores the complexities of mental illness and suicidal ideation, and the unbearable grief of not understanding why.

9. The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick (2008)

The Silver Linings Playbook tells the difficult story of a grown man who is coping with his separation from his long-term partner and subsequent stay in a psychiatric hospital. Pat engages on a journey of recovery in order to regain his ex-wife’s love, but ends up finding new ways to express himself and deal with his illness, particularly through his new found friend, Tiffany. I really like this book because unlike a lot of other stories about mental illness, it’s pretty hopeful and shows that although life continues to be difficult, it can get better.

8. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger (1951)

Although some readers do not associate this book as being explicitly to do with mental illness, the book makes multiple references to the character’s breakdown and eventual stay in a unit after being expelled from his school and subsequently running away. Holden Caulfield is an odd but an extremely likeable protagonist, and his inability to fit into a certain model of societal values is very striking to those who feel like their mental illness or disordered way of thinking makes them alone. This remains one of my favourite books of all time.

7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky (1999)

Despite being more commonly remembered now for the 2012 film adaption, The Perks of Being a Wallflower remains a fantastic book not just about the general difficulties of teenage life, but mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. It follows Charlie’s passage through a year at high school as he struggles with the haunting memories of his friend’s suicide and the abuse inflicted upon him by his troubled Aunt who since died. Eventually Charlie is admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and the story ends on a positive and hopeful note for the future.

6. Suicide Notes – Michael Thomas Ford (2008)

Although this book certainly has some problematic elements, the title being one of them, I felt like this was a fantastic and eye-opening depiction of suicidal ideation. The book begins with Jeff waking up in psychiatric hospital after attempting to end his own life and being sectioned for 30 days under the Mental Health Act. The story then follows Jeff as he becomes accustomed to life on the ward and slowly puts together the memories that he is repressing that caused him to want oblivion so badly.

5. The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer (2013)

I found this book exceptionally insightful for me because it explores a mental illness that I don’t relate to, schizophrenia. Focussing on the protagonist’s guilt over his own brother, Filer explores the contributing factors towards Matt’s breakdown, and his struggle to recover within a strained mental health system. I feel like this is a particularly good read because not only does it offer insight into a range of factors for mental illness, but it offers a view into both inpatient and outpatient care.

4. It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini (2006)

This one of the books about mental illness and hospitalisation that has stuck firmly in my mind over the years, somewhat sadly due to the news of the author’s tragic suicide in 2013. Although reading years ago I felt like it was problematic that the protagonist was only admitted for 5 days after entering the emergency department with suicidal ideation, later experiences only tell me how this is actually pretty realistic and this isn’t the fault of Vizzini, but the fault of the system that cannot afford to invest long-term inpatient care for many people. I also find it uncomfortable reading about another patient who had cut her face and thought it was a ‘cliche’ but again, after since being admitted to psychiatric hospital myself, I feel like the levels of desperate shown in the patients in the book is so sad but pretty spot on.

3. Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami (1987)

This is possibly one of my favourite books of all time, and one of the best that I have read that explore mental illness. I particularly love it so much because it defies the ‘love heals all’ trope. Among other storylines, it follows the protagonist’s relationship with the emotionally troubled Naoko who is severely depressed and is hinted at to be struggling with some kind of trauma. It was very interesting to read a book that describes mental health in a culture so different from my own, and is utterly heartbreaking whilst also being enlightening.

2. Prozac Nation – Elizabeth Wurtzel (1994)

I love this book retrospectively after reading it a couple of years ago and since struggling with mental illness at university myself. I feel like this book offers real insight not only into modern double standards for women, but the unbearable pressure that is placed upon students to exceed and push their academic limits in order to get the best grades and continue up the ladder. This book is about atypical depression rather than BPD but I felt like I could relate to it on a level of both as Elizabeth struggles with her own unstable identity.

1. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath (1963)

I read this book for the first time when I was 11 years old, when I was on holiday in Spain with my family. Of course, there were things I didn’t understand and I’ve read it many times since, but I feel like this book changed the way I saw the world. Esther Greenwood’s struggle in a man’s world that determines her primary status as wife and mother rather than person is still very relevant today, and is often untouched upon by readers who see the text as purely about her going insane with no thought to the contributing factors. I always felt like this text gave me some hope in that despite the description of suicide attempts and hospitalisation, there is an implicit mention of her future husband and child, but of course this is tainted by Plath’s own death just weeks after the publication.

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