ADULT BOOKS (FICTION AND NON) DEALING WITH MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES
Blue Genes by Christopher Lukas: Bipolar disorder, depression and suicide run rampant throughout Christopher Lukas’ family, claiming both his brother (Pulitzer-winning journalist J. Anthony Lukas) and his mother. His aching memoir traces how generations pass on their conditions and come to impact loved ones. It’s an agonizing read, but one wholly necessary to understanding the nature of mental illness.
Brain on fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Bright Red Scream, A: Self-Mutilation and the Language of Pain by Marilee Strong
Buddha and the Borderline, The: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Buddhism, and Online Dating by Kiera Van Gelder
Center Cannot Hold, The: My Journey Through Madness by Elyn R. Saks
Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness by Pete Early
Dante’s Cure by Daniel Dorman: As much the story of a young doctor finding his own path in a controversial new world of antipsychotic drugs, where patients’ advocates have nowhere to turn, Dante’s Cure is the true account of a therapeutic process that took place six days a week, for seven years.
Darkness Visible by William Styron: After a lifetime of alcohol abuse and sedatives, the celebrated author of Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner discovered he suffered from depression. Such a revelation, popping up in his 60s, guided him down a path of self-analysis and forced him to analyze his experiences up to that point. Comparing and contrasting his melancholy with that of other famous figures who struggled with depression brings peace and reflection.
Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields
Drinking Life, A by Pete Hamill: Sexual frustration and anxiety drove writer and journalist Pete Hamill to begin abusing alcohol in adolescence. All he wanted in life was escape, and the desire sent him on even more voyages — many of them reckless or poorly considered – than the ones booze provided. Many note that this memoir isn’t exactly a detailed peek into alcoholism and regaining self-respect, but it is notable for its influence on Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story.
Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp: Untreated and unacknowledged mental illness often — but, of course, not always — leads to substance abuse issues as a means of alleviating the anguish. Caroline Knapp slowly succumbed to alcoholism after struggling with anorexia, both of which were unfortunately exacerbated by her high-pressure parents. Until age 36, this Brown-educated journalist kept the demons suppressed from employers and loved ones before finally checking into rehab.
Electroboy by Andy Behrman: Electroshock therapy has a very negative reputation, but, in reality, it can actually help patients suffering from a number of different psychiatric conditions. Andy Behrman’s manic depression (now known as bipolar disorder) drove him to actions both thrilling and utterly destructive, ultimately landing him in prison when his confidence became so overwhelming he forged paintings. Once he resigns himself to doing whatever it takes to feel well and whole, a combination of the right medicine and electroshock proves successful.
Fast Minds: How to Thrive if You Have ADHD (Or Think You Might) by Craig Surman, M.D. and Tim Bilkey, M.D.
Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder by Rachel Reiland
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen: In this famous memoir of mental illness, author Susanna Kaysen chronicles her stint in a psychiatric hospital at age 18. She received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, a condition largely overlooked and misunderstood by the American mainstream, and relates all the intimate details back to readers. Not only does Kaysen’s autobiography shed light on BPD’s many nuances and symptoms, she also critiques the mental health care system.
Hurry Down Sunshine by Micheal Greenberg: Lauded by critics at Booklist, Library Journal and The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Hurry Down Sunshine revolves around a father coming to terms with his daughter’s mania. With brutal intensity, he opens up about watching his beloved Sally succumb to her brain chemistry. Psychiatric illness does not only impact the suffering individuals — it physically, mentally and emotionally resonates with the ones who love them most.
Insomniac by Gayle Greene: Gayle Greene talks to psychotherapists, neurologists, sleep researchers, doctors, and other insomniacs to dive into a sometimes trivialized — but often excruciating — condition that is usually accompanied by or associated with depression and anxiety.
Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story by Mac McClelland
Just Checking: Scenes From the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive by Emily Colas: Just Checking covers Emily Colas’ life with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, starting with her childhood and moving up to marriage, motherhood and an emotionally-ripping divorce. Rituals and compulsions meant to quell her fears eventually isolate the people she loves most, and it isn’t until she hits the bottom when psychiatric treatment becomes an option. Much of the memoir also covers how OCD severely impacts college students, sometimes driving them towards substance abuse as she once did.
Lay My Burden Down: Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African-Americans by Alvin Poussaint and Amy Alexander
Legacy of Madness, A: Recovering My Family from Generations of Mental Illness by Tom Davis
Loud in the House of Myself: Memoir of a Strange Girl by Stacy Pershall
Lucky by Alice Sebold: Not all mental illnesses come from trauma; not all traumas inspire mental illness, but the two still walk hand-in-hand in plenty of instances. Bestselling author Alice Sebold was brutally raped during her freshman year at Syracuse, and viscerally bristled when a cop told her she should feel “lucky” not to have been murdered like an earlier female student. The incident, along with her upbringing as the child of alcoholics, thrust her headlong into depression and a brutal heroin addiction.
Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher
Man Who Couldn’t Stop, The: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought by David Adam
Musical Chairs by Jen Knox: A mélange of family psychiatric history and struggling to fit into American suburbia sits as the main theme of Jen Knox’s Musical Chairs. Both factors contribute to the author’s nightmarish encasement in substance abuse and sexual objectification, but she eventually realizes how much she really needs her loved ones. Knox grapples with the myriad emotions attached to removing herself out of isolation and into treatment and resolution.
My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind by Scott Stossel
My Body Is a Book of Rules by Elissa Washuta: As Elissa Washuta makes the transition from college kid to independent adult, she finds herself overwhelmed by the calamities piling up in her brain. When her mood-stabilizing medications aren’t threatening her life, they’re shoving her from depression to mania and back in the space of an hour.
Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison: Dr. Jamison has also known suicide firsthand: after years of struggling with manic-depression, she tried at age twenty-eight to kill herself. This is a book that helps us to understand the suicidal mind, to recognize and come to the aid of those at risk, and to comprehend the profound effects on those left behind. It is critical reading for parents, educators, and anyone wanting to understand this tragic epidemic.
Noonday Demon, The: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon
No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America by Ron Powers: New York Times-bestselling author Ron Powers offers a searching, richly researched narrative of the social history of mental illness in America paired with the deeply personal story of his two sons’ battles with schizophrenia.
Notes on a Banana: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Manic Depression by David Leite: “A terrific contribution to understanding not only the experience of bipolar illness but the experience of life: warm, funny, poignant, and human.” (Kay Redfield Jamison) The long-awaited, laugh-out-loud memoir from the beloved founder of the James Beard Award-winning website Leite’s Culinaria—a candid, courageous, and deeply poignant story of family, food, mental illness, and sexual identity.
On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen: A celebrated science and health reporter offers a wry, bracingly honest account of living with anxiety. A racing heart. Difficulty breathing. Overwhelming dread. Andrea Petersen was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at the age of twenty, but she later realized that she had been experiencing panic attacks since childhood. Woven into Petersen’s personal story is a fascinating look at the biology of anxiety and the groundbreaking research that might point the way to new treatments.
Perfect Chaos: A Daughter’s Journey to Survive Bipolar, a Mother’s Struggle to Save Her by Linea Johnson and Cinda Johnson
Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel: Major depressive disorder descended upon writer Elizabeth Wurtzel during her college and young professional days, after a lifetime of loneliness and longing for an absent father. Like many individuals suffering from this agonizingly common condition, she turned towards substance abuse and even a suicide attempt as a means of self-medicating. But a combination of steel will and a determined doctor set Wurtzel back on the difficult road to recovery.
Quiet Room, The by Lori Schiller with Amanda Bennett: Wall Street Journal reporter Amanda Bennett teams up with the courageous Lori Schiller to educate readers on schizo-affective disorder and the dangers of ignoring symptoms. Plagued with auditory hallucinations and suicidal thoughts, Schiller attempts to eke out a “normal existence” by seeking no treatment whatsoever. And, in doing so, ends up losing control of everything — though her story thankfully ends on an upbeat, hopeful note.
River of Time, A by Naomi Judd: After her 2010 and 2011 North American tour with Wynonna, Naomi fell into a debilitating and terrifying depression that seemingly came out of nowhere. Facing severe depression, terrorizing panic attacks, PTSD, toxic drug poisoning, and addiction, she spent the next two and a half years in psychiatric hospitals undergoing treatments and searching for answers. In River of Time, Naomi describes the agonizing toll this took on her and shares her message of hope after surviving the most painful period in her life.
Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character by Kay Jamison: In this magisterial study of the relationship between illness and art, the best-selling author of An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison, brings an entirely fresh understanding to the work and life of Robert Lowell (1917-1977), whose intense, complex, and personal verse left a lasting mark on the English language and changed the public discourse about private matters.
Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs: Augusten Burroughs’ mother sent him to live with her psychiatrist at age 13 after their tragic, unhealthy family life finally collapses in on itself. But even then, the new household contains some bizarre dysfunctions of its very own — including pedophiliac encounters with another adopted son twice Burroughs’ age. Psychology buffs with an interest in the nature versus nurture debate will particularly find his narrative fascinating.
Seventh Angel,The by Alex McKeithen: While a junior at Davidson College, Alex McKeithen went to Europe to study painting. A summer in the Tuscan sun, listening to U2s Joshua Tree helped fuel his creativity. McKeithen’s inspiration exploded into full blown mania, however, when he reached Paris. With the help of his parents, he eventually returns to North Carolina and is admitted to Duke University’s Medical Center where he finds himself under the care of a doctor who correctly diagnoses his bipolar disorder and gently guides him back to sanity.
Shadows in the Sun: Healing from Depression and Finding the Light Within by Gayathri Ramprasad
Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression by Sally Brampton
Sickened by Julie Gregory: Julie Gregory spent her childhood forced into illness because of her mother’s Munchausen by proxy disorder. In the very first memoir of its type, she chronicles the horror of constant physical abuse and how she weathered it hoping to please mommy. Gregory learned of MBP in college, and from there confronted the lie that had been foisted on her since birth.
Skin Game by Caroline Kettlewell: Self-mutilation, often (but not always) involving cutting, crops up as a sadly common method of dealing with numerous psychiatric illnesses. In this emotional, deeply personal autobiography, Caroline Kettlewell explains how slicing herself with razor blades brought solace during her isolated childhood. As of its publication, she was still coming to terms with the issues inspiring the painful actions.
Stalking Irish Madness by Patrick Tracey: Because family history and genetics oftentimes dictate the mental health and stability of succeeding generations, it makes sense that many memoirs covering the subject delve deeply into such themes. Schizophrenia plagues Patrick Tracey’s sisters, and he devotes time and resources to tracing the diseases’ origins in his lineage. While he dredges up plenty of ambiguity and even more questions, the book does serve as an honest glimpse into an incredibly misunderstood condition.
Tell Me I’m Here: One Family’s Experience of Schizophrenia by Anne Deveson
This Fragile Life: A Mother’s Story of a Bipolar Son by Charlotte Pierce-Baker
Touched With Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison: Dr. Jamison’s research on mood disorders reveals that many artists subject to exalted highs and despairing lows were in fact engaged in a struggle with clinically identifiable manic-depressive illness.
Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror by Judith Lewis Herman
Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi: “I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude. Being as thin as possible was a way to make the job of being an actress easier . . .”
Unholy Ghost edited by Nell Casey: Twenty-two writers, including such luminous names as Larry McMurtry and William Styron, contribute their voices to this provocative anthology. All of them shed light on the realities of prolonged depression, allowing readers to analyze commonalities and understand unique experiences alike. Because the condition takes on so many different, ugly forms, anyone wanting to know more about it would do well to explore this volume with an open mind.
Unquiet Mind, An by Kay Redfield Jamison: As both a clinical psychologist and bipolar patient, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison speaks about mental illness from a very unique perspective. She has written extensively about her tumultuous experiences in various books, but none more personal and evocative as An Unquiet Mind. Ultimately, Jamison concludes that despite the horrors of suicide and searching for a valid treatment option, she feels her experiences made her a better person.
Wasted by Marya Hornbacher: All the eating disorders remain some of the most misunderstood, yet high-profile, psychiatric conditions. This Pulitzer finalist defies many of the unfair stereotypes levied onto those with anorexia and bulimia, approaching the subject matter with intelligence and openness. Wasted candidly discusses a 14-year struggle with eating disorders and their comorbid diagnoses.
Welcome to My Country by Lauren Slater: Lauren Slater, a brilliant writer who is a young therapist, takes us on a mesmerizing personal and professional journey in this remarkable memoir about her work with mental and emotional illness. The territory of the mind and of madness can seem a foreign, even frightening place-until you read Welcome to My Country.
When Rabbit Howls by Truddi Chase: Because of childhood sexual abuse and exploitation, the author began retreating inside herself and displaying the symptoms of multiple personality disorder — a condition oftentimes wrongfully confused with schizophrenia. Her memoir was one of the first to address the issue from a patient’s perspective rather than that of the doctor, and proved unique in her refusal to condense the different personalities down. Rather, Chase worked towards organizing them into a cohesive team dynamic.
Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah