How’s Your Mental Health?
The stigma surrounding struggles with mental health continues to plague our society. But here’s the thing: everyone battles mental health. Some battles are more serious than others. Some of us experience the struggles ourselves, while others watch helplessly from the sidelines as people we love fight daily. Many of us experience both personal trials and the difficulties of others. Life is a roller coaster with ups and downs, and mental health is driving the train.
This reading list is filled with memoirs of folks who have personally struggled with mental health challenges. Whether you’re combatting your demons, endeavoring to make sense of news stories involving mental health, trying to love someone who is fighting the battle of their life, or grieving someone who lost their battle, there’s a book here for you.
The more each individual understands mental struggles, the more empathy we can have for others. And, with more empathy, we can start to change things in our circle of influence and then branch out from there. Your change can start with these books.
Note: Mental health is deeply personal and difficult. Please be aware that all these books contain information and stories that may trigger some readers; what’s helpful for one may be upsetting for another.
In writing this post, I found books I was sure I wouldn’t be able to make it through. I tried to choose for as many situations as possible, but please make your choices carefully and thoughtfully. And never hesitate to put a book down that isn’t serving you.
I’m Glad My Mom Died
Jennette McCurdy, 2022
Jennette McCurdy started at six years old as a child actor. By her late teens, she was starring in Nickelodeon’s show iCarly and then a spin-off, Sam & Cat, based on her character. That was the Jennette the world saw.
We didn’t see life with an overbearing mother who relentlessly counted calories, weighed Jennette five times a day, did regular, extensive makeovers on her, and even insisted on bathing with Jennette until she was 16. While mom was thrilled about Jennette’s success, Jennette was riddled with anxiety, self-loathing, and other problems that led to addiction, disordered eating, and unhealthy relationships.
Then Jennette’s mother died.
This book is divided into two sections, Before and After. Jennette tells tales from Before in the first person, as if she’s still the child sharing what she’s experiencing. The reader feels the wrongness of the situation and the desperate love of a child for her mother. This book is neither flippant nor angry; it carefully reflects a complicated life.
Katherine Ellison, 2010
Katherine Ellison was a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter and the mother of a lively twelve-year-old son called Buzz. Buzz and his mother were both diagnosed with ADHD and faced three choices: send Buzz away to boarding school, send mom away somewhere, or work together to figure things out. Was there relief out there for their struggles? What was the best way for this mom to help her child? If you’ve found yourself asking these questions, you’ll appreciate this honest, humorous, engaging memoir about a mother’s journey.
Jenny Lawson, 2021
This New York Times bestseller is about author Jenny Lawson’s experience with depression and anxiety. Her journey is heartbreaking and humorous, something most of us can relate to. You’ll love Jenny’s ability to laugh in the face of her real struggles and her talent for helping her readers feel what it’s like to live in her world. This book is funny, maybe even a bit raunchy, but always honest about a painfully familiar subject. For all its humor, though, this book is genuinely insightful and detailed about what it feels like to be drowning in depression and anxiety and what it takes to get above water again.
Melody Moezzi, 2014
At 18, Melody Moezzi, an American girl born to Persian parents, began battling bipolar disorder, a battle her family wanted to keep secret.
Instead, Moezzi chose to tell her story and became a powerful advocate for removing the stigmas surrounding bipolar and other mental illnesses. She noted that her room was filled with flowers when fighting a serious physical illness. Yet, following a suicide attempt, there were no flowers.
This book is both a memoir and a call for change. Again, hope and humor are juxtaposed into a well-written book that will have you laughing and crying while transforming how you see mental illness.
Jennifer Traig, 2006
Jennifer Traig’s memoir is the story of a diligent Jewish girl, her loving parents, and what it’s like to grow up and live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Traig is fearless in sharing her most obsessive behaviors and her compulsion to follow all the Jewish laws perfectly. Her form of OCD is called scrupulosity because it’s centered largely around following religious rites and rituals. Her “scruples,” as she liked to call them, caused grief in her family, her relationships, her teenage years – all of it. She knew her obsessions were ridiculous, even at the time. Still, she did them anyway.
Traig does a wonderful job of explaining what that felt like. This memoir is focused on Jewish law and traditions. It is well worth a read, especially if you experience OCD or know someone who does.
Susanna Kaysen, 1993
Author Susanna Kaysen was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1967 after an attempt to commit suicide. She spent 18 months in a ward for teenage girls being treated for borderline personality disorder. She shares her experiences at McLean Hospital in this vivid memoir.
What does it mean to be sane? Does one go insane slowly or with a single snap? Susanna shares her experiences and those of some of her fellow patients as she explores those and other questions surrounding mental illness. A movie of the same name was made in 1999, starring Winona Rider and Angelina Jolie.
Rachel Reiland, 2002
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex mental disorder that affects emotional regulation. BPD causes the patient and those that love them intense pain and suffering. Reiland shares what BPD looks like and feels like from the inside. Including the therapies that helped her get on the road to recovery.
After years of struggling with angry tantrums, eating disorders, addiction, promiscuity, and other destructive and impulsive behaviors, Reiland learned what she needed to do to feel the love and connection BPD robbed her of so she could lead a fulfilling life and maintain healthy relationships. Ultimately, this is a book about hope, something that’s often missing in the world of BPD.
David J. Morris, 2015
David J. Morris is a former Marine and war correspondent. In The Evil Hours, he explores the topic of PTSD from all angles, including his personal battle with the condition. His research into the topic is first-rate. He does an excellent job of bringing together the scientific, historical, philosophical, and intellectual components of what we know about PTSD.
PTSD is a wide-ranging affliction that cuts across all genders, nationalities, ages, and experiences. This sensitive and informative book is about a mental illness that can touch us all. If you’re looking for a book to help you understand PTSD, this is the one.
John Elder Robison, 2007
Robison grew up with Asperger’s at a time when the diagnosis didn’t exist. His inability to communicate, his inclination towards odd habits, and his savant-like electronic skills were labeled as quirky or even defective.
Is Asperger’s a disease or simply a different way of being? There’s plenty of food for thought about what’s normal and what isn’t in this compelling story about gifts, not limitations. The sometimes choppy, rigid language allows you to get to know and experience Robison; his humor and perspective will keep you engaged from beginning to end.
Michael Greenberg, 2008
Michael Greenberg’s fifteen-year-old daughter Sally went mad one summer in Manhattan. This is a father’s tale of watching a beloved daughter descend into psychosis and his frantic, hapless, desperate attempts to bring her back. It isn’t a scientific book about mental illness; it’s a touching book about how mania holds everyone around it under siege. It’s about love, family, anguish, and learning to live with uncertainty.
Greenberg is a talented writer, and he introduces many characters into his story who deal with mental illness in their own way. It isn’t a book with a rosy, happy ending. Rather, it’s a realistic, poignant, hopeful book about what it looks and feels like to live with the ever-present reality of bipolar manic depression.
Reading for Your Mental Health
Whether we struggle ourselves, care about someone who struggles, or sometimes experience both, mental health touches everyone at some time. Despite the universal relevancy, mental health remains a subject that is not broadly understood or discussed. These books shed light on a variety of mental conditions in ways that are informative and engaging. Many of the books include humor. While there’s nothing funny about mental illness, seeing the humor can be healing.
There’s a book or two on this list that’s good for your mental health; I know there was for me. When we know better, we can do better, and that’s just one of the many reasons we love books. With prices as low as $3.85, you can explore these and many other titles related to mental health. If you are looking for simple ways to improve your stress level see our post on Reading Outside.