Top 10 Tuesday: Mental Health

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I work in mental health as well as have mental health issues of my own, and have found reading books about mental health to be illuminating and at times quite reassuring when it comes to my own anxiety and depression. As someone who works in the field of mental health I also think it is extremely important for people to talk about it! I feel like we are moving beyond the days when admitting you were depressed was shameful and embarrassing, but there is still a lot of stigma left to overcome. In this weeks top 10 I’ve got some novels about depressed characters, a couple of fictionalized experiences by women who were treated in mental health facilities, a few memoirs, and some poetry and writing by women who themselves were ill and ultimately committed suicide. It sounds like a downer but there are some really powerful and beautifully written books here that I strongly recommend everyone read! In no particular order:

  1. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides – Made into a film starring Kirsten Dunst and Josh Hartnett, this 1993 novel tells the story of 5 sisters who commit suicide together.
  2. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman – A classic short story published in 1892, it still holds strong today. Gilman tells the story of a new mother who is gradually going mad.
  3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – Before committing suicide in 1963 Plath wrote some of the most brilliant poetry in the history of the genre. She also published this one novel largely considered to be a loose memoir of her years in school and as a young adult. Truly fantastic, a must read for everyone.
  4. Selected Poems of Anne Sexton – Sexton is a Pulitzer Prize wining poet who was praised for her deeply personal and confessional style of writing. She wrote many pieces reflecting the time she spent institutionalized and struggling with depression. She committed suicide in 1974.
  5. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf – This 1929 extended essay is widely considered a seminal feminist work. Woolf committed suicide in 1941.
  6. Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America by Elizabeth Wurtzel – This memoir was published in 1994 when Wurtzel was 26 years old and describes her struggle with depression as well as her experience with the drug Prozac. This book was also made into a movie starring Christina Ricci, released in 2001.
  7. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison – The 1995 memoir of clinical psychologist and writer Jamison, this book covers her experience with bipolar disorder and her attempted suicide. She is 70 years old this year.
  8. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen – The 1993 memoir of Kaysen’s experience in McLean Hospital where she was treated in 1967 for borderline personality disorder. This was also made into a movie in 1999 starring Winona Rider and Angelina Jolie.
  9. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan – Cahalan is an American journalist who wrote this fascinating memoir about her time spent in hospital battling a rare auto-immune disease which affected her mental health.
  10. The Ha-Ha by Jennifer Dawson – This 1961 novel was inspired by the author’s personal experiences. It’s a bit harder to find than the other books on this list, but the title was mentioned as one that Plath had read and so I sought it out and really enjoyed it.

There were lots of other books I would have liked to include! Honorable mentions:

Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless
Upstairs In The Crazy House: The Life Of A Psychiatric Survivor by Pat Capponi
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
The Awakening by Kate Chopin

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10 comments

  1. Love this post! I can’t wait to pick up some of these books. I too work in the mental health field–not sure if you have heard of it but The Quiet Room by Amanda Bennett and Lori Schiller is also a really great read!!

  2. Loved Girl, Interrupted (the movie) and The Virgin Suicides (the movie). I also liked The Yellow Wallpaper and The Awakening (though I didn’t think it had to do with mental illness, but I guess now that I think about it, swimming out to sea to drown isn’t exactly healthy behavior).
    Good picks!

    • I read Yellow Wallpaper in high school and it was the first time I was actually engaged and enjoying what I was doing during class lol. Virgin Suicides and Girl, Interrupted have always been two of my favourite movies too!

  3. I think you have a great point, in that it is important to hear the voices of the people who have experienced something – an experience that others have difficulty accessing or understanding. I worked with clients with mental health issues this past summer, and communication is the key to everything. I’ve heard of many of the books on this list and never got around to reading them… this is a good reminder to get started on them!

  4. I’ve read a few of these! I read and re-read “The Bell Jar” years ago! I will add the others to my reading list. Have you read “Nothing Natural” by Jenny Diski? I love how she explains depression. Books always helped me feel less alone when a character would almost describe how I felt..

    • I haven’t read it but I will check it out! Books are so powerful, I love connecting with the characters, particularly with Bell Jar. When she talks about wanting to wash her hair once and be done with it I can so relate haha

  5. I just came across this post and these are great selections! Jennifer Dawson’s book sounds intriguing.

    You might be interested in my forthcoming memoir “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder” with a foreword by Dr. Carol Henshaw. (Post Hill Press, October 10, 2017)

    This book is about bipolar, peripartum onset, also known as postpartum bipolar disorder. There are numerous books about postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis and the other primary perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (postpartum OCD, postpartum PTSD, postpartum panic disorder), but up to now there have been no books that address postpartum bipolar disorder.

    For a brief summary you can visit Amazon pre-sales link :

    https://www.amazon.com/Birth-New-Brain-Postpartum-Disorder/dp/1618688014/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491082099&sr=1-1&keywords=Dyane+Harwood

    Take care,

    Dyane Harwood

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