31 Books That Will Help You Better Understand Mental Illness And Disorders

Whether you live with mental illness or know someone who does, these books might help you make sense of it.

Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

1. Madness: A Bipolar Life, by Marya Hornbacher

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

 

For help understanding: Bipolar disorder

Hornbacher’s second memoir talks about life after being diagnosed Type I rapid-cycle bipolar — how this bit of information helped her make sense of her lifelong struggle with mood swings, anorexia, substance abuse, and self-harm, and how it affects but doesn’t destroy her career, marriage, and life.

2. Shadows in the Sun: Healing from Depression and Finding the Light Within, by Gayathri Ramprasad

 

For help understanding: Depression

Gayathri Ramprasad grew up in Bangalore, in a family steeped in Hinduism and Indian culture, but she found herself battling severe sadness and darkness as she got older. She lived with her undiagnosed depression through a marriage, a move to the U.S., and the birth of her first child, until she checked into a psych ward because of suicidal thoughts. Her memoir is a look at mental illness across two cultures, and how both her spirituality and medicine helped her healing.

3. Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Lewis Herman

Basic Books

 

For help understanding: PTSD

Herman’s extensively researched book offers a history of the psychological effects of trauma (in domestic violence, combat, and political terror) and the presentation 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.

4. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, by William Styron

Vintage

Getty Images

 

For help understanding: Depression

Styron’s memoir is over 20 years old but remains relevant as a seminal text on what it’s like to battle debilitating, nearly suicidal depression, and making the choice to live.

5. The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought, by David Adam

 

For help understanding: OCD

David Adam’s book is an exploration of both his mind and the history of the condition that makes that mind such a hectic place. He explains what it’s like to be plagued by intrusive and obsessive thoughts, illuminates the compulsions — hoarding, home rituals, for a few — that come from them, and researches the history of OCD’s treatment.

6. Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression, by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

One World / Ballantine

 

For help understanding: Depression

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.

7. Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, by Brooke Shields

Hachette Books

Grant Lamos IV / Stringer

 

For help understanding: Postpartum depression

Brooke Shields’ groundbreaking memoir offers a first-person perspective on the devastating depression millions of women experience after giving birth. She talks candidly about her struggles before, during, and after her daughter’s birth, and offers hope of recovery by describing her own.

8. Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl, by Stacy Pershall

 

For help understanding: Anorexia, bulimia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder

Stacy Pershall had a hard time growing up in her small Arkansas town, swinging between high highs and low lows, incredibly smart, and battling both anorexia and bulimia. It wasn’t until her first manic episode at 18 years old that she was accurately diagnosed with bipolar and borderline personality disorders, and a suicide attempt in 2001 that set her on a course for recovery. Her memoir — spirited, honest, and darkly funny — describes her life as the strange girl and her struggle navigating the mental health care system.

9. Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania, Andy Behrman

Random House

 

For help understanding: Bipolar disorder

Andy Behrman spent years misdiagnosed, chasing highs wherever he could and battling overwhelming lows until a manic decision to delve into art forgery ends up with his incarceration, house arrest, failed treatment, and eventual electroshock therapy — and all of it is captured in this affecting and hilarious memoir.

10. The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, by Elyn R. Saks

Hachette Books

Courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

 

For help understanding: Schizophrenia

Law professor Elyn Saks recounts a life that is colored by paranoid schizophrenia — the obsessions and night terrors as a child, the hallucinations and suicidal fantasies as a young adult, the months spent in a psych ward — but also triumphant over it.

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

Beacon Press

Jeff Thiebauth / hms.harvard.edu

 

For help understanding: Suicide, depression

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

12. A Bright Red Scream: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain, by Marilee Strong

 

For help understanding: Self-harm, compulsion

Marilee Strong’s groundbreaking book demystifies the self-injury epidemic through case studies; interviews with psychologists and trauma experts; and, most important, personal accounts from cutters themselves. She explains how and why self-harm happens, what it accomplishes for those who do it, and how they can recover.

13. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Maté

Knopf Canada

Gabor Gastonyi - Clare Day

 

For help understanding: Addiction

Dr. Maté looks at addiction as a physician with decades of experience in treating it — investigating its causes, humanizing the people who struggle with it, and revealing the ineffectiveness of the “war on drugs.”

14. Fast Minds: How To Thrive If You Have ADHD (Or Think You Might), by Craig Surman and Tim Bilkey

 

For help understanding: ADHD

FAST MINDS (which stands for ADHD symptoms: Forgetful, Achieving below potential, Stuck in a rut, Time challenged, Motivationally challenged, Impulsive, Novelty seeking, Distractible, Scattered) is a book that aims to educate and empower anyone who lives with those symptoms. The book offers insight into how these symptoms affect the daily lives of those with ADHD, and what they can do to manage them.

15. This Fragile Life: A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son, by Charlotte Pierce-Baker

Chicago Review Press

 

For help understanding: Bipolar disorder

College professor Charlotte Pierce-Baker’s memoir is a heartbreaking tale of a mother learning how best to to support a son with bipolar disorder, especially when the diagnosis takes her by surprise. After Pierce-Baker’s highly successful postdoctorate son ends up in jail, she looks back at his life, identifying signs of his bipolar disorder she missed in his childhood, and chronicling the struggles after diagnosis — late night calls, hospital stays, drug abuse, long fights. It’s a story of mental illness, race, and family bonds all woven together.

16. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, by Kay Redfield Jamison

Vintage

JHMI

 

For help understanding: Bipolar disorder, depression

Dr. Jamison looks at manic-depressive illness from two sides: as one of the highest regarded authorities on it, and a person diagnosed with it; as someone who treats it, and someone who’s resisted her own treatment of it.

17. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, by Andrew Solomon

Scribner

Jemal Countess / Stringer

 

For help understanding: Depression

Solomon’s National Book Award-winning book pulls from his own experience of depression, as well as interviews with doctors, scientists, politicians, philosophers, and others living with the same diagnosis. His is a moving and extensive meditation on the illness, vacillating between the deeply personal and the global, historical understanding of it.

18. The Buddha and the Borderline: A Memoir, by Kiera Van Gelder

 

For help understanding: Borderline personality disorder, PTSD, addiction, depression, suicide

Kiera Van Gelder attempted suicide for the first time when she was 12 years old, and it marked the beginning of a long struggle with drug addiction, depression, self-harm, unhealthy relationships, until, 20 years later, a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Her memoir illuminates her life leading up to the diagnosis, and the ways she recovered with the help of therapy, spirituality, and a little bit of online dating.

19. Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story, by Mac McClelland

Flatiron Books

 

For help understanding: PTSD

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.

20. The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness, by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett

Grand Central Publishing

Natasha Cholerton Brown / thedream.us

 

For help understanding: Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder

At 23 years old, Lori Schiller — formerly a model student and child — found herself suddenly in the midst of schizophrenia. The Quiet Room chronicles her struggle — years of hospitalizations, halfway houses, suicide attempts, an ongoing sense of hopelessness — and, ultimately, her survival.

21. My Body Is a Book of Rules, by Elissa Washuta

Red Hen Press

 

For help understanding: Bipolar disorder, disordered eating, suicidal ideation

Elissa Washuta left college incredibly overwhelmed — taking the wrong mood stabilizers that weren’t working, recovering from sexual trauma, struggling with her identity as a Native American woman who also went to Catholic school, and trying to claim her independence as an adult in the world. Her book is a journey through her past, understanding her experiences through a cultural lens, aligned with all the lessons she’s learned from things like Law and Order: SVU, Britney Spears, Cosmopolitan, and Kurt Cobain.

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

Washington Square Press

 

For help understanding: OCD

Colas’s memoir is an unsparing account of OCD — 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.

23. A Legacy of Madness, by Tom Davis

Hazelden

 

For help understanding: Depression, bulimia, OCD, addiction, suicide

Journalist Tom Davis walks the reader through four generations of mental illness in his family — from the suicides of his great-great-grandparents, to the psychiatric background of his grandfather, to his mother’s decades-long struggle with OCD and anxiety. His investigation into their lives — their misdiagnoses and inability to find help — illuminates his own life with and recovery from depression and bulimia.

24. Insomniac, by Gayle Greene

University of California Press

Courtesy Gayle Greene

 

For help understanding: Insomnia

Gayle Greene talks to psychotherapists, neurologists, sleep researchers, doctors, and other insomniacs to dive into the sometimes trivialized — but often excruciating — condition that is usually accompanied by or associated with depression and anxiety.

25. Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain, by Portia de Rossi

Atria Books

Jason Kempin / Staff

 

For help understanding: Anorexia

Actress Portia de Rossi gives a fearless account of how the pressures of trying to make it as an actor, and the stress of hiding her identity as a lesbian, manifested as an all-consuming eating disorder. She describes the years spent compulsively engaging in dangerous behaviors, all while living in the public eye — and how she made her way back to healthy.

26. Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud: Relapse and the Symptoms of Sobriety, by Scott Stevens

Xlibris Corporation

 

For help understanding: Alcoholism, addiction

Stevens tackles relapse — why it happens, how it happens, how to safeguard against it — through interviews with more than 280 sober alcoholics who’ve relapsed, clinical research, and Stevens’ own lived experience.

27. My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind, by Scott Stossel

Monica Schipper / Stringer

 

For help understanding: Anxiety

Stossel offers personal experience of anxiety alongside an authoritative history of it — how the world has tried to understand the condition through science, philosophy, theory, and art. His book present an honest depiction of what the anxious life looks like, and insight into managing it.

28. What Becomes of the Brokenhearted: A Memoir, by E. Lynn Harris

 

For help understanding: Depression, alcoholism

The late writer’s memoir spans from his closeted childhood in small-town Arkansas, through his struggles with depression and alcoholism as he struggled to become a successful writer, to the triumph of realizing his dreams as an out gay man.

29. Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression, by Sally Brampton

Bloomsbury

Neil Bennet / sallybrampton.co.uk

 

For help understanding: Depression, alcoholism, addiction

Sally Brampton was living a charmed life in 1985 as a prize-winning journalist launching Elle magazine in the UK, but underneath it all she was struggling with severe depression and alcoholism. Shoot the Damn Dog is her touching, funny, and brutally honest account of coming to terms with her problem and how she persevered.

30. Tell Me I’m Here: One Family’s Experience of Schizophrenia, by Anne Deveson

 

For help understanding: Schizophrenia

In Tell Me I’m Here, Australian writer, broadcaster, and filmmaker Anne Deveson tells the heartbreaking and incredibly personal story of raising a schizophrenic son during his teenage years, and struggling to find him support at a time when the stigma was even worse than it is now.

31. Perfect Chaos: A Daughter’s Journey to Survive Bipolar, a Mother’s Struggle to Save Her, by Linea Johnson and Cinda Johnson

St. Martin's Press

 

For help understanding: Bipolar disorder

Co-written by mother and daughter, Perfect Chaos tells the story of a family journey through one daughter’s mental illness — from the initial denial of her symptoms, to trial periods of different drugs and methods, and all of the trust lost and found again between the two.

Always consult with your doctor about your personal health and wellness. BuzzFeed posts are for informational purposes only and are no substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice.

All this week, we’re talking about mental health. If you enjoyed this post, you might also like these:

CORRECTION

A previous version of this post included a book about Asperger syndrome. Autism spectrum disorders are developmental disabilities, not mental illnesses.

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