16 Must Read Books on Mental Illness

Fran
Dani Milton
November 4, 2020

Mental illness is a common condition within the United States. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in five Americans suffers from these illnesses annually. The federal agency also says that 50 percent of the U.S. population will receive a mental illness diagnosis at some point during their lives. Several research studies have also found mental illness increases the risk of several chronic health conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and vascular issues. If you’re diagnosed with a mental illness, it’s essential to get care from a trusted psychologist and/or psychiatrist who can help you work through your problems. Most insurers will pay for therapy sessions. If you don’t have one that does, you can search for an affordable health plan with SmartFinancial. To help you along your journey, we’ve provided a list of 16 must-read books on mental illness that can help you heal.

1. The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness - Susannah Cahalan

New York Post writer Susannah Cahalan said doctors misdiagnosed her as mentally ill while she suffered from anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a rare autoimmune disorder. She recounted her journey in her New York Times bestselling book, “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness.” In her second book, she chronicles the work of Stanford psychologist David Rosenhan. The scholar designed a research study to examine how psychologists define, diagnose, and treat mental illness. He took seven sane, well-adjusted people and went undercover into asylums in America to test whether mental health diagnoses were legitimate. After releasing his study, some psychiatric institutions had to close their doors, but Cahalan’s discovered there is more to the story than first suggested. To purchase this book, visit this page.

2. Writing and Madness in a Time of Terror – Afarin Majidi

In a gripping memoir, Afarin Majidi speaks about her courageous battle with mental illness in Writing and Madness in a Time of Terror. Majidi’s family made a harrowing journey from Iran to come to America after the fall of the Shah of Iran. After an Islamophobic man murders her cousin, her family falls into turmoil. Her mother, Maman Shirin, begins drinking. Her sister develops an eating disorder, and Majidi suffers from panic disorder, which then turns out to be bipolar disorder decades later.

At thirty years old, Majidi almost achieves the life of her dreams. She gets her masters, lands a job at Rolling Stone Magazine and a potential contract from a prominent book publisher. Her world falls apart after two colleagues rape her and she begins to unravel and experiences a series of psychotic episodes that are strange and yet revelatory.. This must-read book is raw, honest, and engaging. To purchase this book, visit this site.

3. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness - William Styron (1990).

In this groundbreaking memoir, renowned author William Styron chronicles his battle with suicidal depression in 1985. This same mental illness took the lives of other famous novelists, including Randall Jarrell, Primo Levi, and Virginia Woolf. Styron chronicles how his illness progressed, and he also charts his treatment protocols and recovery. Although today's celebrities openly share their mental health struggles, Styron is the first author to document his journey. To buy this book, visit this page.

4. I Am Not Sick, I Don't Need Help! How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment – Xavier Amador, Ph.D.

In his book I Am Not Sick, Dr. Xavier Amador helps families learn how to get treatment for their mentally ill relatives who don’t believe they need help. Amador's personal journey with mental illness inspired his book. His brother, Henry, developed schizophrenia and refused to get treated for his issues. According to Amador, anosognosia (lack of insight) is an issue that some mentally ill people face. This book is also a much-needed resource for mental health and law enforcement professionals. You can purchase the book here.

5. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness – Kay Redfield Jamison

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison is an American clinical psychologist and writer who is one of the world’s top experts on bipolar illness and manic depression. She served as a Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She has also suffered from mental illness during her teenage years and endured several treatments on her journey to recovery.

An Unquiet Mind is a powerful account of Jamison’s experiences as a bipolar patient. She speaks about the disorder from two perspectives–as a clinical psychologist and as a former patient. Jamison also speaks about challenging mood swings that almost lured her to stop taking medication. The psychologist’s shares her wisdom with candor and warmth. You can purchase a copy here.

6. Beautiful Boy – David Sheff

Journalist David Sheff shares his frightening journey to help his son, Nic, recover from a crystal meth addiction. The funny, charming teen was a varsity athlete and an honors student before he developed a substance abuse problem. Afterward, his son lied regularly, lived on the streets, committed crimes, and stole from others. Sheff also discusses his past drug use. He also believes that his tumultuous divorce from Nic’s mother may have led to his son’s substance abuse issues.

Hollywood has turned Sheff’s book into a major motion picture. To purchase his memoir, visit this site.

7. This is Depression: A Comprehensive, Compassionate Guide for Anyone Who Wants to Understand Depression –Diane McIntosh

Diane McIntosh is a renowned psychologist that treats anxiety and mood disorders. In this book, she offers an evidence-based approach to treat depression that’s accessible for lay people. McIntosh speaks about the cause, effects, and treatment approaches of depression. She also provides ample encouragement, warmth, and humor. In this book, the author discusses how genetics and hormones can influence depression. McIntosh uses scientific research to explore the interconnections between depression and other mental illnesses. She tells readers how depression can affect every area of life, including personal relationships, work duties, school performance, and family connections. Readers will also learn about different therapeutic approaches, including psychotherapy, mindfulness meditation, exercise, or brain-stimulation. McIntosh also discusses how antidepressants work within the body and which ones are worthy of undergoing. You can buy this book here.

8. The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – David J. Morris

This book chronicles the history of post-traumatic stress disorder. The condition affects approximately 30 percent of soldiers who have fought in combat, but it’s not limited to military members. It can also occur because of abuse, natural disasters, accidents, and crimes. Yet, most people misunderstand this disorder. American society still stigmatizes those who have the condition.

War correspondent David Morris is a former Marine who suffers from PTSD. He interviewed several patients living with this mental illness and also explores the scientific and cultural history surrounding the disease. You can buy the book on this page.

9. Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We're Not Hurting: Real Talk for When There's Nowhere to Go But Up - Terrie M. Williams

Terrie M. Williams knows that mentally ill people endure stigmatization within the African American community. Even though Williams launched a successful public relations company where she helped celebrity clients, she still struggled with depression and anxiety. She would wake up, afraid, and battled with constant pain. She managed her symptoms privately, for years, until one day, she collapsed. A doctor later diagnosed Williams with clinical depression and recommended she seek treatment. Williams’ book attempts to break the silence and taboo regarding mental illness within the African-American community. You can purchase the book from this site.

10. Everything Here Is Beautiful: A Novel – Mira T. Lee

This fictional work explores the journey of two Chinese-American sisters. Miranda is the protector of her headstrong, mentally ill younger sister Lucia, who has always lived a wild, carefree life. Miranda, who is older and more responsible, always tried to help her sister.Eventually, Lucia experiences a crisis, and Miranda must leave her life in Switzerland to help her sister again. Her younger sister, however, must be open to accepting help. The book received nominations for Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction and Debut Author. To purchase this book, visit this page.

11. Defying the Verdict: My Bipolar Life – Charita Cole Brown

Author Charita Cole Brown suffered depression and mania throughout her childhood. During her final year at Wesleyan University, she suffered a psychotic episode. Her breakdown in college was reminiscent of her grandmother’s own psychological collapse and hospitalization. She was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder with schizoaffective disorder and psychotic breaks.

In this book, Brown challenges stereotypes that people have about manic depression and mental illness. Brown’s doctors predicted that she would never live a normal life, but she defied the odds. After the author learned to manage her bipolar disorder, she earned a master’s degree in teaching and started working in elementary education. She later married and raised a family. Today, she works as a mental wellness advocate. To purchase this book, visit here.

12. The Quiet Room – Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett

In this memoir, Lori Schiller recounts her journey through mental illness and learning to manage her disorder. Schiller grew up in an affluent, loving family. After college, she became mentally ill and tried to kill herself at 23 years old. Schiller consistently heard voices within her head, which called her to question her sanity. Psychiatrists later diagnosed with schizophrenia and began stints where she entered hospitals and halfway houses. The author also tried committing suicide several more times, but she survived. The book includes a reading group guide. To purchase a copy, visit this page.

13. First We Make the Beast Beautiful - Sarah Wilson

Author Sarah Wilson is a bestselling author, journalist, and entrepreneur that has helped people recover from their addictions to sugar. In this memoir, Wilson recounts her personal battle to overcome a persistent anxiety disorder. She speaks about her psychological triggers and what she’s done to manage it. She named her book after a Chinese proverb she found in psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison’s book, An Unquiet Mind.

Wilson speaks about her personal experiences with anxiety and the treatments she’s undergone. She recommends eating real food, meditation, and creating order to soothe anxiety. She also notes that major figures, including Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also struggled with anxiety. To purchase this book, visit this page.

14. Panic to Power – Lucinda Bassett

In this work, author Lucinda Bassett speaks about her inspiring journey to recover from anxiety and agoraphobia. She explains her fear stopped her from living the life she wanted. It also prevented her from leaving poor relationships and taking chances.

She explains that anxious people are highly creative individuals that create worst-case scenarios. Her book takes a therapeutic approach similar to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. It also offers helpful advice to manage anxiety, including nutritional tips. To purchase this book, visit this page.

15. 72 Hour Hold – A Novel - Bebe Moore Campbell

In this novel, Bebe Moore Campbell tells the story of Keri, a mother who battles to save her daughter, Trina, from bipolar depression. The novelist draws on her real-life experiences to save her own child. In the book, Trina suffers from mania and paranoia, which sometimes makes her violent toward others. Keri searches for help for her daughter, but has a tough time fighting bureaucracy. She learns that Trina can sign herself out of any treatment program since she’s an adult. The only way Keri can get help for her daughter is to place a 72-hour hold on her daughter.

Keri turns to an illegal intervention organization, called The Program, to get help for her daughter. Once she entrusts them with her daughter, Keri learns she must face her own buried past. This National Alliance on Mental Illness – Los Angeles has included this novel on its list of recommended mental health reads. Visit this page to purchase this book.

16. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone - Lori Gottlieb

Lori Gottlieb’s “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” is a compassionate, humorous book that helps destigmatize the therapy process. Gottlieb is a Los Angeles psychotherapist who helps patients work through their complex issues. She also writes a popular advice column.

When Gottlieb faces an unexpected crisis happens, she enters therapy. She begins sessions with Wendell, an unconventional psychologist. Her experiences on the other side of the couch help her work through her own challenges. In this book, Gottlieb also allows her readers to get a behind-the-scenes look at therapy sessions with her patients, including a narcissistic Hollywood producer, a suicidal senior citizen, and a young person sleeping with the wrong men. Her New York Times Bestselling book topped several Best Book lists including, Amazon.com, People Magazine, NPR, Variety, and BookPage. To purchase a copy, visit this site.

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