Every May, Mental Health Awareness Month focuses on bringing attention to how mental health plays such a huge role in everyone’s life. It educates about the different ways people can struggle with their mental health. Whether it’s grief after the death of a loved one, PTSD after a traumatic event, a generalized anxiety disorder, or schizophrenia, mental health struggles come in all shapes and sizes. But while most people will struggle with their mental health at some point in their lifetime, mental illness can make people feel alone, lost with no way out of their current mental state.
Reading books about mental health struggles can help people feel seen and less alone. Whether fiction or nonfiction, these works illustrate the wide range of experiences of characters grappling with mental health while trying to get from day to day. No two stories are alike. Each experience is unique, but all share the universal qualities of pushing for something better, for learning how to better care for themselves or their loved ones.
In that vein, here are ten books — some fiction, some nonfiction — that represent a different facet of what it’s like to struggle with mental health.
Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot
While at a mental health care facility, Terese Marie Mailhot begins writing in her journal as if her life depends on it. In fact, it does. Having struggled with her mental illness for almost as long as she can remember, Mailhot hopes this is the thing that will make the difference. Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. In her writing, she begins to grapple with past trauma, fighting for the life she has made for herself.
Broken (in the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson
Since her debut book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson has dazzled readers with her incredible wit and hilarious stories. But in Broken, Lawson takes a slightly more serious tone as she describes her intense struggles with depression. Nothing seems to break her out of her fog. She fights insurance companies to cover better treatment and shares an intimate look into her experience.
The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
Karla Cornejo Villavicencio arrived in America as a young child, meeting her parents at their new home in New York City. She and her parents lived undocumented, just trying to get by, and Cornejo Villavicencio found herself struggling with her mental health. When she started interviewing other undocumented migrants for this book, she found that many of them also struggled with their mental health, the pressure of making their way in America taking its toll.
Rust: a Memoir of Steel and Grit by Eliese Colette Goldbach
While working on her master’s thesis, Eliese Colette Goldbach’s mental health deteriorates, and she finds it impossible to finish her thesis. She decides to take a job at a steel mill, joining a blue collar workforce. She finds herself enjoying the work — and the incredible pay — and slowly starts feeling more like herself. But will she ever be able to finish her thesis?
I’m Telling the Truth But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi
As a Nigerian American immigrant, Bassey Ikpi never felt like she fit in, her emotions roiling just beneath the surface. As an adult, she’s diagnosed with Bipolar II, and begins to get a better handle on her mental illness. But her experience isn’t linear, and she bravely shares her experience with her readers.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
After Brock Turner was sentenced to just six months in jail following a high profile sexual assault case, Chanel Miller identified herself as the victim under the pseudonym Jane Doe. In her memoir she steps out of the shadows, sharing her story on her own terms. As she tells it, she describes the intense toll that the trial had on her mental health.
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Towes
In All My Puny Sorrows, we follow Elf and Yoli, two sisters who have left the Mennonite faith of their upbringing. To Yoli, Elf has always been the shining star, the musician with such incredible talent, while Yoli is divorced and trying to raise two kids on her own. But Elf grapples with severe mental illness, always on the edge of life-ending action. This incredible portrait chronicles the toll that mental illness takes on those who experience it and the families who love them.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Dani Brown has a flirtatious relationship with Zaf, the security guard in her building. But could it perhaps be more? Of course it can! This is a romance novel. Zaf is a former athlete who struggles with anxiety. Sensitive to his condition, he wonders if anyone will see and accept him for who he is.
The Border of Paradise by Esmé Weijun Wang
David grows up in postwar Brooklyn, and for as long as he can remember, he’s struggled with low moods. After his parents pass, he sells the family business and travels to Taiwan. There he falls in love, and his new wife returns with him to America. Eventually his mental illness returns with a vengeance.
Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
Miranda and Lucia, two Chinese American sisters, could not be more different. Miranda, the elder, is responsible, driven, and knows exactly what she wants out of life. Lucia, the younger, is free-spirited, ready to go wherever life takes her. While Miranda is protective of her younger sister, it’s more than just that she’s the eldest. Lucia has struggled with severe mental illness for most of her life. Though Miranda has Lucia’s best interest at heart, her interference in Lucia’s life is not always welcome.
Whether you want to read fiction or nonfiction, there’s a wealth of great books out there. For even more recommendations, check out 50 Must-Read Memoirs about Mental Illness and Mental Health Book Recommendations for World Mental Health Day and Beyond.