Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar
Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.
It is always surprising to me how few people realise that Sylvia Plath wrote a novel alongside her poetry (which I would also recommend). Largely autobiographical, The Bell Jar talks about the slow decline into mental illness in a way that is both beautiful and horrifying. This was the first ever book that I read that really was ‘about’ mental health, and although it isn’t a positive book, it is a classic, and one that spoke to me like nothing else.
Patrick Ness: The Rest of Us Just Live Here
What if you aren’t the Chosen One?
The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.
I’ve featured this book a couple times on here, so for that, I apologise! However, I was completely blown away by this book’s representation of OCD and eating disorders, so I had to include it on this list. The way that Ness describe’s Mikey’s OCD is absolutely amazing. The slow building up of obsessive thoughts and actions is so accurate to my experiences. Also, there are great therapy scenes where medication and suicide are frankly discussed, which is just incredible to me. I wish I had read YA like this when I was a teenager.
Allie Brosh: Hyperbole and a Half
This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative–like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it–but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:
Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*
*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!
This is probably going to sound a bit hipster but – I knew about Allie Brosh before she was cool. So when she announced that she had a book coming out, I was over the moon. In it, she talks about various experiences she’s had with the same vibrant illustrations (made on Paint) that she did on her blog. You probably recognise some of them:
The best parts (other than the dog stories which make me cry with laughter every damn time) are the stories she tells about her depression. These are so, so accurate. She talks about the various stages of depression, including the numbness, the feeling of invincibility (because you don’t care whether you die doing something stupid), and the eventual return of emotions – though not necessarily happiness. This is brilliant and funny and of all the books on this list, this is the one I probably recommend the most.
Holly Bourne: Am I Normal Yet?
All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…
But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?
THIS BOOK. Again, I’ve talked about this a couple times, so I’ll keep this short. Once again, YA is where I’ve found some of the best mental health representation. In Am I Normal Yet?, Holly Bourne really lays out the way that mentally ill people think, and how seemingly small situations can be turned into huge problems. It is also full of gems like this:
“Because now people use the phrase OCD to describe minor personality quirks. “Oooh, I like my pens in a line, I’m so OCD.” NO YOU’RE FUCKING NOT. “Oh my God, I was so nervous about that presentation, I literally had a panic attack.” NO YOU FUCKING DIDN’T.”
My heart swells every time I read this passage. Holly Bourne, y’all. She knows.
David Karp: Is It Me or My Meds?
By the millennium Americans were spending more than 12 billion dollars yearly on antidepressant medications. Currently, millions of people in the U.S. routinely use these pills. Are these miracle drugs, quickly curing depression? Or is their popularity a sign that we now inappropriately redefine normal life problems as diseases? Are they prescribed too often or too seldom? How do they affect self-images?
David Karp approaches these questions from the inside, having suffered from clinical depression for most of his adult life. In this book he explores the relationship between pills and personhood by listening to a group of experts who rarely get the chance to speak on the matter–those who are taking the medications.
To round things off, some non-fiction about mental health! This book was really instrumental in my understanding of what it means to be on medication for mental illness. (Which I am, by the way.) Although I was not necessarily against the idea, because I’d seen how medications helped a lot of my friends, it was something I initially felt uneasy about. It was the ultimate sign that something really was ‘wrong’ with me, and I didn’t like that. This book has a pretty rounded approach to how medications can and can’t help you, and is full of individual stories.
I am always looking for books about mental health – if you know of any, please leave a comment! I’m thinking about doing a #MentalHealthMarch, and I need all the book recs that I can get.