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24 Books That Are Straightforward About Mental Illness

Because sometimes it's hard to explain or understand on your own.

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1. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Ozeki tackles depression from two angles — through the protagonist, 16-year-old Nao, who falls into a suicidal depression after moving back to Tokyo; and through Nao's father, who falls into a deeper depression after losing his job.

2. After Birth by Elisa Albert

Albert never explicitly names postpartum depression in her 2015 novel on a woman in the first year of motherhood, but Ari's resentment over her experience of childbirth, alienation from the rest of the world, and complicated feelings about her son ring true to the dark and confusing period that often comes, well, after birth.


3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Plath's semi-autobiographical novel has become a classic for its brutally honest portrayal of her own depression. In hypnotic stream of consciousness, she describes the emotional and psychological breakdown of Esther Greenwood, a woman struggling against self-destructive thoughts and overwhelming darkness.

4. The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round House tells the story of 13-year-old Joe, who is forced to grow up too soon after his mother is brutally attacked. Erdrich gives poignant insight into the daily manifestation of PTSD, and offers sympathetic perspective of what it's like to care about someone struggling with it.

5. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

The driving force of Murakami's devastating novel is the "sickness," or, depression, which plagues Naoko, Toru, and the young man whose suicide brings them together. It's an honest and lyrical look at the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness and helplessness that depression often brings.

6. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Tim O' Brien plants himself into this collection of semi-autobiographical stories about soldiers in the Vietnam war, and his character exhibits the tell-tale signs of PTSD — depression, alienation, guilt, and nightmares — that make integration back into civilian life seem so impossible.


7. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

The heroine of Hausfrau has been compared both to Anna Karenina and Esther Greenwood. She's a woman in a seemingly happy life, plagued by a nearly debilitating depression, which nothing — German classes, affairs, psychoanalysis — seems to ease.

8. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee

Lee's novel is a story of harbored secrets, and trauma that can't be forgotten. When Franklin Hata is injured in a fire, he's reminded of his painful past — and the tortured woman he fell in love with during the war.

9. All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Niven's YA novel tells the heartbreaking story of two teens who have grappled with depression and suicidal thoughts, and the author respects her audience enough to never sugarcoat the painful truths of experiencing it.

10. Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

In Lacey's debut novel, she follows the impulsive Elyria on a one-way flight to New Zealand, where she's gone to try to forget about the life — her husband, her late sister, a spiraling depression — behind her. Her thoughts are ruminative and obsessive, and increasingly violent, and reveal the inner workings of depression and anxiety.


11. OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

Haydu's YA novel is about Bea, a young girl juggling some crushes who also has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It isn't a light or easy read, but it gets to the darkest corners of OCD — the panic attacks, the mania, the shame — and gives depth to the character living with it.

12. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls's memoir tells of growing up with an alcoholic father and vaguely depressive mother, and exposes the way these disorders are rarely as black and white as we believe.

13. Willow Weep for Me by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Danquah's memoir illuminates a story that often goes untold— that of a black woman struggling with depression. Focusing on her experience as a young, single mother, she challenges societal expectations of black women — idealized as strong nurturers, caretakers, and healers — and examines how these affected her understanding of her own depression, and her willingness to seek help.


14. Trauma and Recovery by Judith Lewis Herman

Herman's extensively researched book offers a history of the psychological effects of trauma (in domestic violence, combat, and political terror) and the presentation — and understanding — of PTSD. Filled, largely, with accounts of the victims' experiences in their own words, it is an honest and profound exploration of the frequently misunderstood disorder.

15. After a While You Just Get Used To It by Gwendolyn Knapp

Knapp's Southern gothic memoir is "a tale of family clutter," but it deals with physical clutter as well, describing a slightly dysfunctional relationship with her mother (a hoarder), her mother's bipolar boyfriend, and an aunt who is in and out of jail.

16. Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression, edited by Nell Casey

This collection of 22 essays by writers who live with depression (or who love someone who does) offers a comprehensive view of all the myriad ways people can experience it — touching on medication, recovery, physicality, effects of racism and stigma. The writers are compassionate and empathetic, and any reader who might feel alone in his depression is bound to find at least one perspective to relate to.

17. Stop Walking on Eggshells by Paul Mason

This self-help manual is directed toward people who are close to anyone with borderline personality disorder, and it offers actionable tips for setting boundaries and helping loved ones, as well as a comprehensive explanation of what BPD actually is and what anyone living with it is likely going through.


18. Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia by Marya Hornbacher

Hornbacher's memoir about spending years embracing her eating disorders is heartbreaking and illuminating, showing everything the disorders took from her — relationships, education, jobs, time — but also when and how she decided to take it back.

19. Don't Panic by R. Reid Wilson, PhD


This self-help book demystifies panic and anxiety, and helps reduce (and possibly eliminate!) attacks. For anyone who struggles with panic attacks, it's a way to take control back in your life.

20. Just Checking: Scenes From the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive by Emily Colas

Washington Square Press

Colas's memoir will be immediately recognizable to anyone who falls on the OCD spectrum. It's honest, but not so heavy that Colas is unable to poke fun at herself, and it somehow manages to be both specific enough to speak to those who also live with OCD and accessible enough that those who don't can read it for a clearer understanding.

21. Lit by Mary Karr

Any of Karr's memoirs are worth a read, especially if you've struggled with feelings of helplessness or hopelessness, but Lit — which chronicles her descent into alcoholism and a self-declared madness — is a searing tale of unlikely recovery.


22. Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story by Mac McClelland

Human rights journalist Mac McClelland spent 2010 reporting on Haiti's disastrous earthquake, but when she returned home to California, she was surprised and confused by the lasting effects of the trauma she'd witnessed. This is her investigation of her own mind, and the exploration of a connection she finds with a man who has his own devastating past.

23. Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans by Alvin Poussaint and Amy Alexander

Beacon Press

Dr. Poussaint's book offers a clinical examination of the dissonance between black America and the predominantly white healthcare industry. With journalist Amy Alexander, Poussaint investigates the historical, cultural, and political factors that keep black citizens from seeking help.

24. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh's beloved blog of the same name has become so popular for its hilarious and poignant depictions of everyday life, and it is no more on point than when describing living with depression.