Mental Health Awareness Week: 5 Books You Should Read

It's important that books are able to depict mental health in nuanced ways.

Ever since I was young, books have been a way for me to navigate my life. Whether this is through escaping life for a few hours by delving into a book, or being able to relate my experiences to others through various characters in book. Which is why I believe that it’s important that books are able to depict mental health in nuanced ways. In recent years, more and more books have been released that deal with mental health powerfully.

Here are five of them that you should read for Mental Health Awareness Week:

 

1. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

image: Penguin Random House

Anyone remember Matilda? No, not the book. The movie starring little Mara Wilson. Well, it’s been a few years since Matilda came out, and Mara Wilson is all grown up!

Her book Where Am I Now? is many things. It’s a look into the life of a famous child star. It’s a look into this child star growing into an adult, and moving away from showbiz. It’s also a book about Mara Wilson’s mental health problems. Particularly, the anxiety and OCD that she has suffered from since she was a child. There are a few chapters dedicated to her experiences with these. From learning that as a child she used to worry about every little thing until those around her would become aggravated, and to her discovery – through a book! – that she might actually suffer from OCD.

It’s one of the first books I’ve read where the subject of mental illness is dealt with such honesty and frankness. Whether you watched Matilda or not, whether you’re a fan of Mara Wilson or not, Where Am I Now? is a fantastic book from start to finish.

 

2. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Image: Goodreads

I’m sure we all remember The Virgin Suicides movie starring Kirsten Dunst. And it was a pretty great movie – but the book is even better.

The book gives us a pretty specific perspective on mental health – on how disregarding the mental health of young girls can lead to such tragedies. One of the most striking moments, of both book and movie, is when the doctor tells Cecilia – after she attempts suicide – “What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.” The scene encapsulates so much of reality – how we continually ignore the very real and valid feelings of teenage girls. We ignore it by suggesting that it’s a phase, or they’re overdramatic, or as Cecilia’s doctor says – that they’re not even old enough to understand how bad things really are. Dangerous grounds to walk on when the suicide rates of teenage girls is actually rising.

The book’s narrative technique makes its point even starker. Though the book is about these sisters, it’s all speculation. Nobody thinks to ask Cecilia why she decided to commit suicide, yet everybody was keen on speculating on it, and continually judging the family. The book perfectly captures how the lack of necessary dialogue, and the shame and silence, around mental health can directly lead to horrific tragedy.

 

3. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

image: Harper Collins

I don’t know exactly how to describe Challenger Deep. It’s less of a novel and more of an experience.

The book explores the protagonist, Caden’s, depression, through allegories to being on a ship heading for the Marianas Trench. It is the absolute perfect allegory for depression, and the book pulls you down along with Caden as he tries to navigate out of his own mind.

It is a difficult book to read in many ways because the experience of it is so visceral, but it’s one of the best explorations of depression that I have read.

 

4. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Image: Amazon

If you’ve been around the internet for a while, you have probably seen the memefied versions of Allie Brosh’s comics. The ‘all the things’ meme? Allie Brosh. The alot meme? Allie Brosh! I used to read Brosh’s blog back in the day, and laugh at the hilarity of her comics.

So I was surprised when one day Brosh released a comic about depression that was too goddamn honest and perfect. Combined with the usual style of her comics, there was almost a dark humour to it. I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.

I was surprised to learn afterwards that Allie Brosh had gone ahead and written a book full of her comics, entitled Hyperbole and a Half! It featured that combination of funny and heartbreaking. There were comics from her blog – including that amazing one about her depression – along with many, many more.

 

5. The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda LoveLacE

Image: Amazon

Amanda Lovelace’s The Princess Saves Herself in This One is a poetry collection that deals with some really heavy themes, but does it rather perfectly. It’s not a long book, but there is a lot within it. It’s quite simplistic, but that simplicity is what makes it seem very raw and incredibly relatable. The poems stretch from topics of suicide and eating disorders, to sexual assault and rape.

But perhaps the best thing about the book is that despite the often heavy, and dark, subject matter, there’s an undertone of hope to it that keeps growing brighter and brighter as the book goes on.

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