Last week, I shared some books you should read in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Month. May is also Mental Health Awareness Month, so today I am going to be sharing a few of my favorite books about mental health. Mental health is still extraordinarily stigmatized, especially when looking at mental health disorders outside of mild anxiety and depression. It is important that we work to break down those barriers, and make mental health care both normal and affordable.
I decided to only list fiction books in this list today because many people with mental health disorders find themselves responsible for doing research on their condition themselves, in the absence of proper care. I wanted to give those people a list of books that they could read to feel less alone in what they are experiencing. For those of you that are fortunate enough to not struggle with your mental health, perhaps reading one of these books will help you to relate to the people in your life who are struggling.
I did my best to include a variety of different mental health conditions on this list. Too often we only see anxiety and depression when we talk about mental health, but in reality the spectrum is much wider than that. Disclaimer that I only experience anxiety and depression, and so I cannot speak for the medical accuracy of many these books.
- Topic: Anorexia / Eating Disorders
- Author: Diana Clark
- My Rating: 5 Stars
Thin Girls centers around a girl named Rose who is battling anorexia. The book alternates from present day, where Rose is in a treatment facility, to her teen years where the illness began to take hold of her life. This book was so beautifully written and I found it to be a captivating look into the mind of someone who’s entire mind is captured by an illness that is telling her things that she logically knows not to be true. Because you’re so inside of Rose’s mind, I will but a slightly larger trigger warning on this book than I would on the rest of the list, as it could be potentially relapse-inducing to read from the perspective of someone so entranced by their disorder.
Goodreads Summary: A dark, edgy, voice-driven literary debut novel about twin sisters that explores body image and queerness as well as toxic diet culture and the power of sisterhood, love, and lifelong friendships, written by a talented protégé of Roxane Gay.
Rose and Lily Winters are twins, as close as the bond implies; they feel each other’s emotions, taste what the other is feeling. Like most young women, they’ve struggled with their bodies and food since childhood, and high school finds them turning to food—or not—to battle the waves of insecurity and the yearning for popularity. But their connection can be as destructive as it is supportive, a yin to yang. when Rose stops eating, Lily starts—consuming everything Rose won’t or can’t.
Within a few years, Rose is about to mark her one-year anniversary in a rehabilitation facility for anorexics. Lily, her sole visitor, is the only thing tethering her to a normal life.
But Lily is struggling, too. A kindergarten teacher, she dates abusive men, including a student’s married father, in search of the close yet complicated companionship she lost when she became separated from Rose.
When Lily joins a cult diet group led by a social media faux feminist, whose eating plan consists of consuming questionable non-caloric foods, Rose senses that Lily needs her help. With her sister’s life in jeopardy, Rose must find a way to rescue her—and perhaps, save herself.
Illuminating some of the most fraught and common issues confronting women, Thin Girls is a powerful, emotionally resonant story, beautifully told, that will keep you turning the pages to the gratifying, hopeful end.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
- Topic: Trauma Response
- Author: Gail Honeyman
- My Rating: 5 stars
In Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Eleanor is a quirky individual who struggles with normal social conventions. She had a difficult life, to the point where even now as an adult she receives a visit from a social worker each month. When I was reading the book, I believed that Eleanor was autistic, however Honeyman has since clarified in interviews that Eleanor is experiencing a trauma response from her childhood. Regardless, I really enjoyed this book and thought that it was an interesting look into the mind of someone who didn’t necessarily fit in the way society wanted her to.
Goodreads Summary: No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: she struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding unnecessary human contact, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen, the three rescue one another from the lives of isolation that they had been living. Ultimately, it is Raymond’s big heart that will help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one. If she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.
Smart, warm, uplifting, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .
the only way to survive is to open your heart.
The Midnight Library
- Topic: Depression
- Author: Matt Haig
- My Rating: 5 stars
This book absolutely tore me apart. The Midnight Library is a somewhat fantastical story about a woman who tries to kill herself and then has the opportunity to experience different versions of her life while in a sort of purgatory. Matt Haig’s descriptions of depression frequently reduced me to tears simply because it felt so entirely true to my own experience. Obviously, I do not speak for everyone when I say that, but for what it is worth I, at least, am grateful I read it.
Goodreads Summary: Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?
A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?
In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.
- Topic: Addiction
- Author: Ellen Hopkins
- My Rating: Read my 5 star review here
The main character in Crank is dealing with a variety of different mental health conditions over the course of the book, but the one that this book centers around is her addiction. As a society, we too often do not take addiction seriously as an illness that deserves treatment, instead casting these people aside as criminals. I think that this book did a really great job of showing the humanity of an addict that is ruining their own life and the lives of their loved ones, even though she does not want to be.
Goodreads Summary: In Crank, Ellen Hopkins chronicles the turbulent and often disturbing relationship between Kristina, a character based on her own daughter, and the “monster,” the highly addictive drug crystal meth, or “crank.” Kristina is introduced to the drug while visiting her largely absent and ne’er-do-well father. While under the influence of the monster, Kristina discovers her sexy alter-ego, Bree: “there is no perfect daughter, / no gifted high school junior, / no Kristina Georgia Snow. / There is only Bree.” Bree will do all the things good girl Kristina won’t, including attracting the attention of dangerous boys who can provide her with a steady flow of crank.
Turtles All the Way Down
- Topic: OCD
- Author: John Green
- My Rating: Read my 5 star review here
I know that people have mixed emotions about John Green and the fact that he is perpetually writing stories about teenage girls. However, in this story Aza has OCD, a condition which Green also experiences. What I love about this book is that Aza’s OCD is not the main or most interesting thing about her. She is still able to experience her life to the fullest, but there was incredibly vivid and compelling descriptions of how the OCD affected her. As someone with anxiety, the book felt extraordinarily relatable to me, although I cannot speak for the OCD-specific elements which Aza experienced.
Goodreads Summary: It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward. Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.