Trigger Warning: The mention of certain content and topics in this article may be triggering to some readers, including depression, mental health, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Struggling with mental health should never be a battle someone has to face alone. However, sometimes people struggle to talk about things with others. And so, it’s in books we can discover the true power of finding solidarity and understanding in the mental illness community.
Mental Health memoirs offer a particularly eye-opening look at the lives of those struggling with mental illness and those around them. Such narratives can offer people a chance to see themselves in another’s story and feel less alone, especially considering how isolating such conditions can be. While these accounts can be harrowing, they offer both education and comfort to those in need. Below, discover some of these amazing mental health memoirs.
Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life by Amanda Stern
The world never made any sense to Amanda Stern–how could she trust time to keep flowing, the sun to rise, gravity to hold her feet to the ground, or even her own body to work the way it was supposed to? Deep down, she knows that there’s something horribly wrong with her, some defect that her siblings and friends don’t have to cope with.
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s in New York, Amanda experiences the magic and madness of life through the filter of unrelenting panic. Plagued with fear that her friends and family will be taken from her if she’s not watching-that her mother will die, or forget she has children and just move away-Amanda treats every parting as her last. Shuttled between a barefoot bohemian life with her mother in Greenwich Village, and a sanitized, stricter world of affluence uptown with her father, Amanda has little she can depend on. And when Etan Patz disappears down the block from their MacDougal Street home, she can’t help but believe that all her worst fears are about to come true.
Tenderly delivered and expertly structured, Amanda Stern’s memoir is a document of the transformation of New York City and a deep, personal, and comedic account of the trials and errors of seeing life through a very unusual lens.
The Noonday Demon: An Atlas Of Depression by Andrew Solomon
The Noonday Demon examines depression in personal, cultural, and scientific terms. Drawing on his own struggles with the illness and interviews with fellow sufferers, doctors and scientists, policy makers and politicians, drug designers, and philosophers, Andrew Solomon reveals the subtle complexities and sheer agony of the disease as well as the reasons for hope.
He confronts the challenge of defining the illness and describes the vast range of available medications and treatments, and the impact the malady has on various demographic populations—around the world and throughout history. He also explores the thorny patch of moral and ethical questions posed by biological explanations for mental illness. With uncommon humanity, candor, wit and erudition, award-winning author Solomon takes readers on a journey of incomparable range and resonance into the most pervasive of family secrets.
His contribution to our understanding not only of mental illness but also of the human condition is truly stunning.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled as violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?
In a breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that almost didn’t happen. Brain on Fire is an unforgettable exploration of memory and identity, faith and love, and a profoundly compelling tale of survival and perseverance.
(Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation about Mental Health edited by Kelly Jensen
To understand mental health, we need to talk openly about it. Because there’s no single definition of crazy, there’s no single experience that embodies it, and the word itself means different things—wild? extreme? disturbed? passionate?—to different people.
In (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, thirty-three actors, athletes, writers, and artists offer essays, lists, comics, and illustrations that explore a wide range of topics:
- their personal experiences with mental illness,
- how we do and don’t talk about mental health,
- help for better understanding how every person’s brain is wired differently,
- and what, exactly, might make someone crazy.
If you’ve ever struggled with your mental health, or know someone who has, come on in, turn the pages . . . and let’s get talking.
Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life by Melody Moezzi
Born to Persian parents at the height of the Islamic Revolution and raised amid a vibrant, loving, and gossipy Iranian diaspora in the American heartland, Melody Moezzi was bound for a bipolar life. At 18, she began battling a severe physical illness, and her community stepped up, filling her hospital rooms with roses, lilies and hyacinths.
But when she attempted suicide and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, there were no flowers. Despite several stays in psychiatric hospitals, bombarded with tranquilizers, mood-stabilizers, and antipsychotics, she was encouraged to keep her illness a secret—by both her family and an increasingly callous and indifferent medical establishment. Refusing to be ashamed or silenced, Moezzi became an outspoken advocate, determined to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness and reclaim her life along the way.
Moezzi reports from the frontlines of an invisible world, as seen through a unique and fascinating cultural lens. A powerful, funny, and moving narrative, Haldol and Hyacinths is a tribute to the healing power of hope and humor.
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney
Shortly before her thirtieth birthday, Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Flagrantly manic and terrified that medications would cause her to lose creativity, she began a years-long struggle to find mental stability while retaining her passions and creativity.
Searching to make sense of the popular concept of the crazy artist, she finds inspiration from the lives and work of other artists and writers who suffered from mood disorders, including Vincent van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, William Styron, and Sylvia Plath. She also researches the clinical aspects of bipolar disorder, including the strengths and limitations of various treatments and medications, and what studies tell us about the conundrum of attempting to “cure” an otherwise brilliant mind.
Darkly funny and intensely personal, Forney’s memoir provides a visceral glimpse into the effects of a mood disorder on an artist’s work, as she shares her own story through bold black-and-white images and magnificent prose.
For fiction novels that discuss mental health, click here!