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7 Books on Mental Health and Mental Illness: Understanding ourselves and others through fiction

7 Books on Mental Health and Mental Illness: Understanding ourselves and others through fiction

October 10, 2015 0 Comments

In honour of World Mental Heath day today, we have put together a list of books which include the theme of mental health or specific mental illnesses.

So many people suffer mental health problems, and a lot of people don't get the support they need:

It is important that mental health is never ignored, and by furthering understanding of mental illness across the world we can try to be more mindful of those around us, and make sure that they are properly looked after.

One way to keep mental health high in our consciousness is through fiction. Many books touch on the subject, and many tackle it well. These books are not only useful in understanding the experiences of others, but some may help us understand ourselves too.

Here are 7 books, a mix of fiction and non-fiction, relating to mental health and mental illness for you to delve into:

1. One flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

Tyrannical Nurse Ratched rules her ward in an Oregon State mental hospital with a strict and unbending routine, unopposed by her patients, who remain cowed by mind-numbing medication and the threat of electroshock therapy. But her regime is disrupted by the arrival of McMurphy - the swaggering, fun-loving trickster with a devilish grin who resolves to oppose her rules on behalf of his fellow inmates. His struggle is seen through the eyes of Chief Bromden, a seemingly mute half-Indian patient who understands McMurphy's heroic attempt to do battle with the powers that keep them imprisoned.

2. The Secret Scripture by Barry Sebastian

Woman reads book, World Mental Health Day
Nearing her one-hundredth birthday, Roseanne McNulty faces an uncertain future, as the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital where she's spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure. Over the weeks leading up to this upheaval, she talks often with her psychiatrist Dr Grene, and their relationship intensifies and complicates. Told through their respective journals, the story that emerges is at once shocking and deeply beautiful. Refracted through the haze of memory and retelling, Roseanne's story becomes an alternative, secret history of Ireland's changing character and the story of a life blighted by terrible mistreatment and ignorance, and yet marked still by love and passion and hope.

3. My Mum's from Planet Pluto by Gweneth Rees

Daniel knows that his mum was very ill once - mentally ill. She's fine now, and she's even landed a big new job as a head teacher. The problem is, she's head of his new school! It's so embarrassing - everyone is going to tease him.

But then things get even tougher for Daniel. With his father abroad, his mum stops taking the medication that prevents her illness coming back. As she starts behaving more and more weirdly, Daniel realizes that something is terribly wrong. And that he is the only person who can help her.

4. Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel B. Smith

For years, Daniel Smith suffered from bouts of acute anxiety, extended episodes without any apparent cause that seized control of his body and mind, leaving him an emotional wreck. Sleep was impossible and headaches and nausea haunted his days. Anxiety threatened his sanity and jeopardized his relationships. He had a prestigious job, a comfortable apartment, and caring friends-but, according to his therapists, nothing seemed to be wrong.

Monkey Mind is the story of how one man finally learned to live with-and laugh at-his own anxiety issues. Smith shares his own hilarious and heart-wrenching story from his first severe episode at age sixteen to his discovery of the author Philip Roth, who made anxiety seem noble, to his first job, which nearly drove him to distraction, to his struggle to give up the endless cycle of hand-wringing angst in order to keep the love of his life. Through medication, endless psychoanalysis, self-imposed isolation, and meditation, Smith finally makes peace with his restless mind and becomes the husband and father he longs to be.

5. Sunbathing in the Rain by Gweneth LewisUmbrellas, World Mental Health Day

Whilst the overall structure of ‘Sunbathing in the Rain’ moves from dark to light, telling the story of Lewis's recovery, its different strands allow a variety of tones and subjects to be explored, from the profound to the frivolous. Alongside a paragraph about the proper relationship between the ego, the mind and the emotions nestles a passage on the therapeutic value of nail varnish. Practical hints on how to get better (diet, read Hello!, helpful pieces of music) are alongside striking quotations, ranging from sentences on crisp packets, to prayers, from Russian orthodox writings on silence to collections of slang.

Part memoir – drawing on her own experiences, both adverse and encouraging, as a depressive and an alcoholic – and part guide or companion, this book brings Burton's ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ into the twenty-first century. For it will have two voices, one calling from the valley of despair, the other from a safer, calmer new place.

6. Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

We all worry about what others think of us. We all long to succeed and fear failure. We all suffer - to a greater or lesser degree, usually privately and with embarrassment - from status anxiety.

For the first time, Alain de Botton gives a name to this universal condition and sets out to investigate both its origins and possible solutions. He looks at history, philosophy, economics, art and politics - and reveals the many ingenious ways that great minds have overcome their worries.

7. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

Audrey can't leave the house. she can't even take off her dark glasses inside the house.

Then her brother's friend Linus stumbles into her life. With his friendly, orange-slice smile and his funny notes, he starts to entice Audrey out again - well, Starbucks is a start. And with Linus at her side, Audrey feels like she can do the things she'd thought were too scary. Suddenly, finding her way back to the real world seems achievable.


What does World Mental Health Day mean to you? Your stories are important and we always want to hear them.


Field Sunset World Mental Heath DayTo find out more about World Mental Health Day, head over to their website.

The Mental Health Foundation have also produced a set of podcasts - why not have a listen.

All of these books are available to Listening Books members to borrow on CD, to stream, or to download.


Written by Holly Newson

Slideshow: Mental health across a lifespan from MentalHealthFoundation

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