19 Books That Are Brutally Honest About Mental Health

Memoirs, YA, essays and more.

1. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Canongate

Amy Liptrot’s stunning memoir was shortlisted for this year’s Wellcome Book Prize. The Outrun transitions from Liptrot’s childhood in Orkney and relationship with her father and his mental illness to her own adult struggles with alcoholism.

2. Lowboy by John Wray

Picador

John Wray’s novel offers a singular glimpse into paranoid schizophrenia. It’s the story of 16-year-old Will, who runs away from home on a quest to save the world from global warming, and of his mother and a detective’s quest to save him.

3. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

Picador

In her second memoir, Jenny Lawson speaks candidly, brutally, and hilariously about her lifelong struggle with mental illness. Furiously Happy explores crippling depression and anxiety with an openness and sense of humour that will make you cry and laugh in equal measure.

4. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Harper Collins

This debut YA novel from Jasmine Warga tackles teen depression and suicide in the Internet Age with no holds barred. Sixteen-year-old Aysel meets Roman online, through a website that helps people make suicide pacts, and as the pair grow closer in the planning, they have to decide if they’ve really found someone to die with or someone to live for.

5. The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

W.W. Norton & Company

This series of stories from a psychotherapist illuminates the relationship between therapist and patient, painting vivid and heartfelt portraits of mental illness and recovery that remind readers they aren’t alone.

6. The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon

Vintage

Andrew Solomon beautifully weaves together his personal struggle into a larger exploration of depression and its historical, social, biological, chemical, and medical implications around the world.

7. Neurotribes by Steve Silberman

Avery

This sensational bestseller re-evaluates conventional thinking about autism, and calls for wider acceptance, understanding, and inclusion for those who think differently. In addition to winning the 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, Neurotribes is a New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller, and was recently shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize.

8. The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson

Doubleday

Beloved children’s and YA author Jacqueline Wilson explores mental health within the family in the charming and stigma-breaking The Illustrated Mum. Dolphin faces challenges with dyslexia and bullying at school, while at home her mum Marigold lives with bipolar and alcoholism, forcing Dolphin to grow up fast.

9. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

Riverhead

Carrie Brownstein’s 2015 memoir focus on her personal experience of growing from an isolate teen into a rock performer and early voice in third-wave feminism. Along the way she discussed her mother’s struggle with anorexia and her own battle with depression.

10. Henry’s Demons by Patrick and Henry Cockburn

Simon & Schuster

Journalist Patrick Cockburn and his son, Henry, narrate this searingly honest portrait of schizophrenia. Father and son relate the struggles of both patient and caretaker, giving a unique and detailed look into what it’s like to live with the condition.

11. Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss

Granta

This 2016 Wellcome Book Prize shortlisted-title is the standalone sequel to Sarah Moss’s Bodies of Light. In Signs for Lost Children, Moss examines the institutional politics of mental health in Victorian Britain through the eyes of Ally, a young doctor providing care in the Truro asylum as she confronts her own demons.

12. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jameson

Granta

Leslie Jameson’s series of essays ruminates on her time as a medical actor helping medical students understand how to make a diagnosis. Her essays explore what it means to feel empathy for others’ pain, physical and mental.

13. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Canongate

In his newest book, Matt Haig looks back on how he considered killing himself and the things that eventually saved him. The book discusses life with depression and anxiety and the balancing act between dark and light that many who live with mental illness can relate to.

14. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Knopf

Woven into the love story of this YA novel is an important narrative about mental health recognition in teenagers, their access to help, and manic depression specifically. The story follows Finch, a suicidal high schooler, and his classmate Violet, who is coping with the death of her sister.

15. Life After Death by Damien Echols

Atlantic

Damien Echols was institutionalised as a teen following chronic delusions, hallucinations, and mood swings. Not long after his release, he was convicted and sentenced to death in the West Memphis Three case. Eighteen years later he was released following the discovery of new forensic evidence, and his memoir meditates on his time served in prison. It explores his own mental state and provides a glimpse into mental health issues within the American prison system.

16. Playthings by Alex Pheby

Galley Beggar

Recently shortlisted for the 2016 Wellcome Book Prize, Pheby’s novel fictionalises the life of one of Freud’s most famous case studies, a man living with schizophrenia in 20th-century Germany.

17. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

Disney-Hyperion

This compelling YA novel gives insight into living with obsessive-compulsive disorder through Sam, a popular high school girl who conceals her struggle with purely obsessional OCD.

18. Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

Simon & Schuster

Daniel Smith explores the various layers of anxiety in this honest history of his own life with the condition. A New York Times bestseller, it explores the unique frustrations, incoherence, and isolation of the condition.

19. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Harper Perennial

Sylvia Plath’s iconic novel will never go out of style when it comes to exposing the harrowing experience of depression. The novel follows Esther Greenwood down the rabbit hole of a mental breakdown, and reminds readers that mental illness can prey on anyone, no matter how much they seem to have going for them.

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Chelsey Pippin is commissioning editor for features at BuzzFeed UK and is based in London.
 
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