A list of books about mental health and mental illness. There’s a mix of fiction, nonfiction, and a wide variety of mental health issues and concerns. These books may be relatable to you or they may make the perfect gift for someone in your life. Regardless of your own mental status these books are sure to make the perfect conversation starters for tough subject matter.
These books are not self help guides they merely have content matter related to mental health. For entertainment and representation purposes only!
Some of these books could be triggering to some readers. These books do contain a range of subjects from anxiety, depression, eating disorders, suicide, and much more. Also know that these books are in no way meant to diagnose or treat any of the mental health conditions they discuss. Please seek a professional if you are feeling unwell.
Books are presented in alphabetical order and will be expanded as more are read and reviewed.
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Kickstarting this list of books about mental health is an example of the extreme that untreated psychosis could cause. Patrick Bateman has become well known through the movie adaptation of this novel as a serial killer with a music obsession but the book displays even more nuance.
Bateman clearly exhibits narcissism and psychosis as well as panic attacks, cognitive dissonance, and substance abuse issues. Although some people have for some reason idolized this character he spends the novel asking for help and never receiving it. Although he is definitely not a typical representation this is how far some people go when they have a complete break from reality in combination with violent tendencies.
American Psycho is definitely not for the faint of heart. The violence and sex is graphically depicted and should not be used as an example for how to achieve “Alpha” status. He’s ill and probably too far gone to ever come back.
Calling Mr. Nelson Pugh
Many of us likely suffer from anxiety in some form. Most people can relate to feeling anxious in social events, job interviews, airports, anywhere unfamiliar really. But some people experience severe and crippling anxiety from everyday mundane events. This novella deals with a severe anxiety disorder and what happens when an actually dangerous situation happens to someone who feels panic just answering a phone call.
Calling Mr. Nelson Pugh is the closest I’ve seen to reading what an actual panic attack feels like. The author perfectly captures the heart racing, heavy breathing, trapped and never coming out feeling that extreme anxiety can cause. If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack you’ll feel a great amount of empathy for Mr. Pugh. You’ll also want to put this book down but will simultaneously feel compelled to keep reading until this book about mental health is done.
Eat, and Love Yourself
Eat, and Love Yourself tackles the subject of bulimia and body dysmorphia. The protagonist is a full figured woman who wishes she was thinner but cannot stop the binge/purge cycle. She doesn’t understand when men are attracted to her and thinks they must be mocking her. She shame spirals into more binge eating and more purging until she experiences a somewhat mystical event.
She learns to love herself but not without hard work. Getting over an eating disorder is never easy and most people that suffer from this mental illness cannot break free without help. She will likely continue to have doubts about her body long after she stops purging but she can at least continue to work towards a healthy attitude towards food and herself.
Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles
This DC comic book is a highly underrated work of literary genius. Primarily, the book is about being gay during the McCarthy era but it does get into depression and suicide as well. Huckleberry Hound is struggling to live in a society that does not accept him for who he is. Living in silence has caused him to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts.
Although his friends attempt to show him the little bit of good in the world he falls deeper and deeper into the darkness. It’s a tragic side story that has plagued the LGBTQ and other minority communities throughout history. He is made to feel that the world would be better off without him and he starts to believe it even if it was never true. Society is wrong a lot of the time, don’t let the darkness take over.
A nonfiction entry to this books about mental health list is the memoir by Suzy Favor Hamilton. She was an olympic level runner who dramatically switched careers during what she later discovered was a manic episode. Before she was diagnosed bipolar she quit her job to become an escort in Las Vegas. She became addicted to the highs of sex, money, shopping, and fast living.
She put her marriage in jeopardy, her career in the trash, and her reputation on the line to chase the title of top escort in Vegas. A suicide attempt finally prompted the hospital stay that got her bipolar disorder diagnosed and treated. Mania truly is one helluva drug.
She addresses her illness with unabashed honesty and doesn’t attempt to shame herself or anyone else who has uprooted their lives during a manic event. It’s important to understand how this destructive behavior is not fully by choice and how to forgive those who have lost control.
Harley Quinn and Joker are an infamous couple that have become completely misunderstood. Many people see them as the epitome of alt relationship goals but they really are in an abusive relationship. Harleen explores how clinically insane Joker manages to control and manipulate his psychiatrist, Harleen, into destroying her career for a chance to be with him.
Joker is a narcissist in the extreme. Harleen deals with anxiety, depression, and self esteem issues that make it easy for Joker to take advantage. He makes her feel safe, he makes her feel strong and capable. By the end of the book it makes sense how they end up together even if it’s not healthy for either of them. Sometimes someone’s mental illness compliments someone else’s in a way that feels right but is ultimately destructive.
I am Not Okay With This
This graphic novel is a highly polarizing book by the always controversial Charles Forsman. I am Not Okay With This follows a very depressed teenager as puberty gives her unusual telekinesis powers. She has no idea where these powers came from or how to responsibly use them. As with most of the changes that come with being a teenager she didn’t ask for this and doesn’t want it.
To self medicate her depression she does drugs, drinks, sleeps with older men and women, ditches school, and generally self destructs. She has no strong role models and no one in her life to help her through her rage and sadness. She’s very likely to succumb to disturbing and intrusive thoughts without any sort of social life vest.
This book does deal with feelings of suicide as well. I know that’s a big trigger for many readers so consider this your warning.
I’m Glad My Mom Died
Another mental health memoir is the bestseller by Jennette McCurdy. The controversial title caught a lot of attention but I’m sure after reading the book you’ll understand why it’s appropriate.
McCurdy is still recovering from depression and anxiety disorders, extreme eating disorders, and PTSD caused by her upbringing as a child star. She openly and honestly talks about her struggles in a way that is sure to make you uncomfortable. She does not sugar coat anything. Her experiences are disturbing, disgusting, heartbreaking, and then… hopeful.
Although she is still recovering she is finally on the path to redemption. Her anorexia and bulimia are under control, she is seeing a professional therapist, and her biggest trigger, her mother, is out of the picture. She’s getting help and feeling better than she ever has before. There is always hope.
I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying
Nonfiction essays by Bassey Ikpi
Another memoir by a female author suffering from bipolar is I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying. She has been diagnosed with bipolar 2 and explains how she lived with the extreme lows and occasional highs before getting treatment.
Bipolar 2 is different from bipolar 1 in that it is categorized with long periods of clinical depression and occasional bouts of hypomania without going into a full manic state. But please, don’t let anyone tell you that this condition is “bipolar light” or an easier diagnosis. Severe depression is not a cake walk and hypomania can be destructive as well. Especially when coupled with dysphoria or a mixed episode.
This memoir will educated readers in the many forms a diagnosis can take. Individuals do not have the same experiences and everyone’s mental health story will look different.
Imagine Me Gone
Imagine Me Gone explores genetic mental health problems. This family has experienced depression through the generations and has passed it down to each other. They are all struggling in one way or another but cannot seem to help themselves or each other.
Once again, this book deals with suicidal thoughts. Suicidal ideation comes along with many mental illnesses, not just depression. This novel shows how all different personalities have their struggles. No one is completely safe from internal strife.
Additionally, the book shows how mental illness can affect those around the person with the diagnosis. A relative or friend may be hurt by the person with depression or another ailment and those feelings are just as valid. When one person suffers they do not suffer alone.
No Longer Human
This manga adaptation of a novel brings visuals to the downward spiral of the main character. This man has more than a few problems. Ever since he was young he has had a pathological phobia of respect. Unusual to say the least. This causes him to act out and self destruct every chance he gets. He was also repeatedly molested as a child which has certainly triggered several other issues.
He keeps himself drunk to pass the time with as little feeling as possible, when he does start feeling he tries to kill himself. He attempts suicide semi-regularly but has yet to succeed. He is depressed, an addict, and considers himself beyond help. This story is not light and it does not have a happy ending.
Suicide is the most common theme on this list of books about mental health. This Murakami novel addresses suicide in a few ways. Two of the main characters are bonded together after a mutual friend commits the act, one of those friends then goes on to commit herself to a sanitorium. Another character enters the picture and seems to embody borderline personality disorder, although they don’t use those words exactly.
She’s a compulsive liar, manipulative, and has absolutely no problem with hurting anyone’s feelings. She is calloused toward the struggles of other characters and shows no grief where suicide is involved. Norwegian Wood is messy but that’s it’s best characteristic. There are honest and real depictions of characters who don’t know how to get the help they need. They self medicate with alcohol and sex to mask their pain. You may not like it but you might relate to them.
Underneath the Whisky
Underneath the Whisky deals with the aftermath of gay conversion therapy. The protagonist of the story went to conversion therapy in order to attempt to save his marriage. He’s been hiding his true sexuality from himself his entire life and gave this one last chance to “fix” it. As pretty much every story to come out of the horrors of conversion therapy does he gets extremely depressed and is left worse off than when he started.
He deals with his depression by drinking in excess and gets to a point where he considers suicide. His pain completely saturates these pages but there is hope by the end! As with many mental health journeys wellness doesn’t come easy. He must take baby steps to get onto a path that will serve him right. He will not be able to hold on to everything and there are consequences to his actions but at least he’ll be able to start fresh with his genuine self.
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