Unbelievably Wonderful Books about Mental Illness & Mental Health

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While this list of books about mental illness and mental health was originally created for the reading challenge, we think it’s a list of books that will remain relevant for years to come.

Mental illness and mental health were both taboo subjects until the pandemic through a glaring spotlight on how important it is to take care of our mental state as much as we take care of our bodies.

Add to that the growing number of celebrities that have spoken out about their battles with various mental illnesses, and you get a world that is finally ready to destigmatize this area of medicine.

I have found that my depth of understanding and compassion has been enhanced by reading the books below. You’ll find books about mental illnesses like schizophrenia, eating disorders, substance abuse, and OCD, as well as mental health books that address anxiety, depression, and suicide.

These books about mental illness can be heavy, so be aware of your own mental health while reading them.

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Non-Fiction Books about Mental Illness

Because We are Bad by Lily Bailey

This memoir was enthralling from the first line. Lily takes us into her mind as her OCD develops from girlhood through to the present.

Her raw portrayal of mental illness was difficult to read at times but helped me to understand more about OCD. I was connected to her thoughts in a way I’ve never experienced before. A must-read for anyone with a loved one who has this disorder. 

What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan

What an emotional non-fiction book about Madison’s life, her pressures, and her mental state leading up to her suicide. I remember when Madison’s suicide happened here in Philadelphia.

I was 8 months pregnant at the time. It was a tragedy that was all over the news as parents everywhere felt the pain of Madison’s parents.

I read this book as part of an upcoming book discussion at a local community center that works on suicide prevention. I learned so much about suicide from this book, which handled the subject with grace and thoughtfulness it deserves.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

Stop everything and add Hidden Valley Road to your TBR now!! Thank you so much Libro.fm and Double Day for my advanced copy of this book.  All I can say is wow!

This is the amazing story of Don and Mimi Galvin whose family paved the way for schizophrenia research over the past 50 years. Of their 12 children- 10 sons and 2 daughters, 6 of the boys have schizophrenia.

The struggles of this family to survive through the age of lobotomies and institutionalization provides a look into the history of this disorder. It’s unbelievable to think how far we’ve come and yet, we are not even close to understanding this disease

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

I read this book in a few short days after finding out I would be interviewing Lori Gottlieb for a local charity event. I was so intrigued by the concept of a therapist talking about her own experience in therapy and how it relates to her clients.

It was fascinating and filled with insight that is relevant to how we all live our lives and how we relate to the community around us. Lori was a pleasure to interview and I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next. 

Books Set in a Mental Health Facility

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

While the main portion of this story features 3 code breakers at Bletchley during WWII, one of the main characters is dating Prince Philip. You know, the same Prince Philip who eventually marries the queen?

It’s a dual-timeline story and one of those storylines is set against the backdrop of Philip’s wedding to QE2. Plus it’s a Kate Quinn novel, so the writing and story are both top notch.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Let me start off by saying, this is no Big Little Lies. I love Moriarty when her works are based more in events that could actually happen – My Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies remain great books on my list.

This story about nine strangers at a health retreat had an incredible start and then got insanely far-fetched. Mind you, I enjoyed it immensely, but you need to go in knowing that it’s an enjoyable read but nothing more.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

This thriller has been a best seller on all the major book charts recently, so I was really excited to dive in when my library hold came through.

The premise sucked me in immediately – a woman murders her husband and then doesn’t say a word for 10 years.

Convinced he can help, a psychologist transfers to the facility she is staying out to try to get the real story behind the fateful night of the murder.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Susanna’s gripping memoir of her time spend in a mental hospital in the ’60s is a book that I still think about years after reading.

Her detailed history of the facility, the patients, and her experience made for a page-turning story that inspired the fictionalized movie starring Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder.

YA Books about Mental Illness

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Violet and Finch meet unexpectedly on the top of the bell tower at school.  She is counting the days until graduation will take her away and he is finding reasons to keep on going. 

This is a love story that you will not forget. This one deals with depression and teen suicide, so be aware of that if those are potential triggers.

This YA book about mental illness was recently turned into a movie.

Turtles on the Way Down by John Green

Aza is a 16-year-old who, along with her best friend, is searching for a lost billionaire in order to get the reward money. 

Along the way, she finds Davis, the billionaire’s son, and her childhood friend.  Love, loss, and resilience are all themes in this book that will capture you and keep you reading until the last page.

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

This story is about a boy named Matthew who has severe OCD and has trouble leaving his house due to his anxiety.

Matthew is the last person to have seen the toddler next door before the four-year-old disappeared. 

 I love the fact that this book looks at the world from Matthew’s point of view.  It is very readable as well as eye-opening.

Books About Depression

25 Days ‘Til Christmas by Poppy Alexander

I read 25 Days ‘til Christmas because I wanted a lovely little romantic Christmas story. The story is about a single mother who decides to do an advent calendar of activities in the hopes of bringing life back to her home. 

A cute guy befriends them and I thought I was getting the romance I was looking for.⁣ In actuality, the book takes a dark turn and deals with loneliness, depression, childhood disabilities, and grieving. 

It was so much deeper than I thought when looking at the peppy cover. ⁣I loved it. Truly. I wanted to personally walk into the pages of the book and lift her up when life knocked her down. 

I got the happy Christmas ending I wanted, but in a more meaningful way than I initially expected.⁣ I can’t recommend this one enough. 

All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle

This book was my surprise star of the summer so far. I had not heard of the book and thought it sounded great. I loved every minute of it.

Hubert Bird is a widower who has weekly conversations with his daughter in Australia. He tells her amazing stories about how he spends his time. The problem? It is all made up.

Now with his daughter coming to visit, Hubert must find friends and a life to show his daughter.

Hubert gets a second chance at love and friendship but the book dives deeper into Huberts past as well. The depth and sincerity in this book are wonderful and I cannot say enough good things.

Thank you Libro.fm for my copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I wasn’t sure how I felt about this book initially.  Eleanor bugged me in a way that I could not identify.  She is not supposed to be likable initially which is why I persevered and I ended up liking the book. 

As we get to know Eleanor and understand her profound loneliness,  it made me think about what initial judgments I make in other areas.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Mr. Backman has a wonderful way of capturing the reader’s interest with wonderful characters that find themselves in hilarious situations.

I laughed out loud- a lot- while reading. The book A Man Called Ove does indeed start with Ove trying to take his life and continuously being interrupted by his new neighbors.

But, this story is so much more than that. As it progresses, Ove is able to have a profound impact on the life of everyone he meets.

Mornings with Rosemary by Libby Page

I picked up this book and couldn’t put it down. I loved it from start to finish. It was such a great read that is really in the spirit of “A Man Called Ove.” This intergenerational story of friendship, love and overcoming personal obstacles, touched my heart.  

Kate is reporter whose dreams of becoming a star reporter have dissolved into writing fluff pieces for a small, local newspaper. She is almost paralyzed by her own fears and loneliness.

When she is assigned to write a piece about a local lido closing, she meets Rosemary Peterson. Rosemary is 86 years old and has been swimming at the lido her entire life. The unlikely friendship between these two women is heartwarming and you won’t want to put it down

Books About Substance Use Disorders

There are lots of books featuring drug addiction and alcoholism. There are a few listed below but a list of more than 25 books on our list of Fiction and Non-Fiction books about addiction.


We Begin at the End by Chris Witaker

This book was recommended to me by a dear friend who I trust so much when it comes to book recommendations. She was not wrong.

Duchess Day Radley is 13 years old and extremely protective of her five year old brother and often acts as a parent to her own mother, Star. Walk is the town chief of police and has never forgiven himself for giving testimony that sent his best friend Vincent to jail for thirty years.

Now, Vincent is out of Jail and Starr is murdered. I was not prepared for the emotional punch that this book delivered with each and every page.

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

I have not read many books where the central characters are American Indian. This book takes place on the Michigan side of Sault Ste. Marie where Daunis is going to have a fresh start in college when she witnesses a murder. She suddenly finds herself working as a CI for the FBI as they investigate a lethal form of meth slowly killing her people. Her knowledge of science as well as the Ojibwe traditional medicines makes her the perfect person to help. 

While this is characterized as YA thriller, it has the depth and soul to appeal to any audience. I can see why this book has already been optioned for a Netflix Series. I really did not know very much about the Ojibwe culture before reading this book and the little bits about traditions and spirituality were fascinating. Each tidbit added more depth to the story and I could not put it down. I will read anything that Ms. Boulley writes! Thank you Macmillan Audio for my ALC of this book. The narration was wonderful and added to the story.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Long Bright River is phenomenal and I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN.⁣ The story takes place in Philly’s Kensington neighborhood which is known for having a huge opioid problem. 

You can’t live in my area and not know about the epidemic spreading through our city. It’s devastating and scary and this book deals with it head-on.⁣

The story revolves around 2 sisters. One is a cop, one is an addict – both are being impacted by a string of murders in the area.⁣ This book dealt with many issues around drug-addiction and it handles them without judging.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Covering drug addiction, immigration, racism, and more, this story is as entertaining as it is stimulating. Its discussion of drug addiction’s impact on the larger family unit was reminiscent of Long Bright River.

I also kept having to remind myself that it was a fictional story and not a memoir because the emotion and knowledge expressed in the book were so believable.⁣

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I started reading this book but when my audiobook library hold came in I changed over to the audiobook version. HOLY COW. The audiobook is EVEN BETTER. Seriously, I think this might have been my favorite audiobook of all time. I expect it to sweep the Audies this year for sure. The book is laid out in chronological order about the making of a band in the 70s, but the story is told in interview style from a dozen sources.

The audio version has a different narrator for each character and the performances the actors give are stupendous. I was overcome with emotion numerous times while I was listening. The story itself about the rise and fall of one of the hottest bands was so utterly fabulous – it’s pure sex, drugs and rock n’ roll in all the best ways. There is a Spotify playlist that goes with it – scroll down for all the details.

Books about Schizophrenia

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

I read this book more than 20 years ago and I still feel emotional when I think about this book about schizophrenia. I have not re-read it to see if it has withstood the test of time but I have no doubt that it has.

This is a story of identical twin brothers one of whom is a paranoid schizophrenic. When he shockingly mutilates himself, his brother must become his caretaker. It is powerful and heartbreaking.

Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

Like so many of the books that we have recommended, this book is eye-opening.  It looks at Tom, his twin sister Savannah and the family that they were born into. 

The story is brutal and direct and will tug at your heart- worth every page.

Books About Eating Disorders

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

I often do not like books in which the email main character is written by a man. Wally Lamb does this with ease in this funny and poignant coming-of-age story.

This story covers her eating disorder, her subsequent stay at an in-patient facility, her suicide attempt and more. It’s a wonderful, moving story.

Milk Fed by Melissa Border

Rachel is a 24 year old woman who has serious food issues stemming from her mother. She is obsessed with maintaining her body and her image while craving nurturing, unconditional love and food.

For Rachel, food and love are the same. When she starts a 90 day detox from her mother, Rachel meets Miriam, an overweight orthodox Jewish women working is a yogurt shop.

 
There was so much about the book that I really enjoyed but there were parts that I found so strange. Her fantasies about food were strange. Her sexual desires linked to mothering were disturbing to me. Overall, the book was well-written but not a favorite.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

Man, I tackled some heavy books earlier this month. This one was a look inside an in-patient treatment facility for those suffering from an eating disorder.

This fictional account, had me rooting for all the women suffering as I prayed they would be able to help themselves enough to be released.

I had no idea just how complicated and hard to overcome an eating disorder could be or how easy it is to trigger it again. Still, this story ends on an uplifting note. 

Fiction Books About Mental Illness

Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Don’t let the gorgeous cover fo this book fool you. Darling Rose Gold is. a dark and sinister look at a dysfunctional and abusive mother-daughter relationship.

I couldn’t put it down, but it is a trigger for child abuse. I can’t give much about the story away without ruining it. If you are a thriller lover, this one is for you.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Recently made into an HBO mini series, this story is another dark one from the writer of Gone Girl.

When 2 girls are found murdered in her dingy old town, a reporter is sent to investigate. In the process, she digs up some old wounds and resurrects family drama.

The Woman in the Window: A Novel by AJ Finn

If you love old movies, you will adore this book. It’s a spin on Hitchcock’s Rear Window and features an agoraphobic narrator who is often unreliable.

I realized what was going on midway through the book, but it didn’t deter my enjoyment at all. If anything I found my self further draw in by the narrator’s obliviousness!

The Perfect Daughter by DJ Palmer

When police come to Grace’s door, she is terrified that something has happened to her teenage daughter, Penny. Instead, she finds out her daughter has been arrested for murder. ⁣
⁣What follows is a year and a half in a Psychiatric facility while Penny awaits her trial and try to determine if the multiple personalities are real or a made up ruse to get away with murder. Because Eve, the protector, has kept Penny and the other personalities away. ⁣
⁣This thriller is brilliantly crafted and had me guessing until the very end. ⁣Thank you to Macmillian Audio for my ALC of this book. It was amazing to listen to as each personality had a distinct voice. I couldn’t put it down!

Books About Mental Health we Want to Read

Did you find any books about mental illness and mental health to add to your TBR?

The post Unbelievably Wonderful Books about Mental Illness & Mental Health appeared first on Beyond the Bookends.

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