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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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