Book Blog Memes / Bookish Discussions

Ten Books That Deal With Mental Illness

According to the Mayo Clinic, mental illness: “refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior.”

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is to  “Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters”. And so I chose storylines near and dear to my heart, mental illness.

Having worked with children with special needs and having family and friends affected by mental illness, I always welcome books that really capture the essence of what it is to live a life with challenges of this nature.

Obvious books that come to mind are One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Girl, Interrupted and Silver Linings Playbook. All excellent depictions of what mental illness looks like and the film adaptations were equally profound. These ten listed here are ones that I’ve read over the years that shed light on a wide range of topics, such as: depression, anxiety, Bipolar disorder, OCD, PTSD, social disorders, Autism and addictive behaviors. Some are heavy in nature and some balance the ups and downs of those dealing with mental illness and the family and friends affected.

mental illness books

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick. Quick has several books under his belt dealing with mental illness and Silver Linings is a favorite of mine. In this one, Bartholomew is a 38 year-old man who has always lived with his mother and after her death has to navigate life on his own.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. Part mystery and suitable for young adults, fifteen-year-old Christopher is trying to solve the mysterious death of a neighborhood dog all the while dealing with the regimented life of Autism.

The Room by Jonas Karlsson takes a quirkier approach in the topic of social disorders with this tiny book that packs a punch in under 200 pages. Bjorn is meticulous and socially awkward and finds a secret room where he can be most productive. The thing is there is no special room in the office and coworkers begin to be disturbed by Bjorn’s behavior.

Two books that deal with depression and PTSD for young adults and adults alike are The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Belzhar.

In Perks, Stephen Chbosky highlights Charlie, a freshman who is socially awkward. While trying to fit in and finding his pack, he writes letters to an unknown recipient discussing his darkest fears while overcoming a tragic event. In Belzhar, Meg Wolitzer adds the element of magical realism to tell Jam’s story of being sent to a therapeutic boarding school to deal with her depression after the death of her boyfriend.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is one of the first memoirs I read and was blown away. I really can’t think of another that has had the same effect on me. Jeannette relives her days growing up with parents who suffer from mental illness and choose to be homeless. Their paranoia of the government and avoidance of social norms keep them on the run while trying to raise four small children.

I read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman this year and again it’s a small book that leaves a lot to digest. First published in 1892, this journal of a woman confined to her bedroom after giving birth is heartbreaking and profound. What starts off as maybe a woman with postpartum depression ends up with a harrowing account of a woman spiraling into madness.

Another book leaving a lot of questions to discuss is How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman. I shouldn’t have loved this book but I did. LOVED! After Marta sends her son off to college she starts to wonder about a life before her husband. This novel is part mystery and thriller as the reader has to decide if Marta’s downward spiral into darkness is due to mental illness or clarity of something darker her husband has covered up for years.

Two books that deal with addictive behaviors stemmed from tragedy are The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.

The Bird family appears to be the typical family in a picture perfect setting until tragedy strikes their family and instead of banding together in grief, they all fall apart, especially their mother Lorelei.

In Sharp Objects, protagonist Camille leaves the psychiatric hospital with a reporting assignment in her hometown- a place that brings up dark thoughts and feelings which in itself leads to her cutting herself. As she uncovers the mysterious death, she also uncovers her traumatic past.

For additional suggestions, this article from Bustle lists 11 books with a title I wanted to steal, “Most Realistic Portrayals of Mental Illness in Novels“. I haven’t read any but will definitely check out a few.

Have you read any of these? Any other recs?

Are there books you read that shed light on mental illness and left an impact?


21 thoughts on “Ten Books That Deal With Mental Illness

  1. This is a great list! I loved The Glass Castle & Curious Incident (and am looking forward to reading about the adult autistic in Best Boy soon). I also really want to read Belzhar. Another PTSD book that was extremely well-done is Thank You For Your Service…deals with PTSD and TBI in soldiers returning from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan…and the impacts on their families. Really powerful nonfiction.

  2. I love this twist on the TTT!
    A recent book on autism that I loved is Do You Think This Is Strange? And, on addiction and mental illness, the memoir Drunk Mom was very good.

  3. Great recommendations! The Perks of Being a Wallflower was one of my favorite books in high school, and I loved The Glass Castle. I neeeed to read The Yellow Wallpaper!

  4. This is a great list, and I love books that deal with mental illness, especially if they are accurate in the character’s disorder and not just something the author Wickapedia(ed), which does happen.

  5. What a great list! So many books depict mental illness negatively, and perpetuate the bad stereotype of the “crazy” person. It’s so great there are books out there and paint a *real* picture of mental illness. Thanks for some new titles to look into!

  6. Interesting topic! I’ve read a few of these, but the one I really want to get to is Belzhar. I love Meg Wolitzer and it’s been sitting on my shelf since it was published. Shameful. Thanks for giving it a little back list bump! Great list!

  7. It sounds weird to say I’m happy about this but I am happy that you read and liked How to Be a Good Wife! I loved it and thought it was so well done, but it didn’t get a lot of press and I don’t know many other bloggers who read it. I thought it would be a good one for TSS- so much to discuss!

    • Butting in – I also really enjoyed How to be a Good Wife and it would be a great discussion book! You two are the only other people I know who read it, which is a shame.

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