It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and having worked in the mental health sector (up to last Friday!) I am very much aware of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness. I’m one of the lucky ones, and aside from occasional anxiety and short periods of feeling blue, I have not personally suffered from mental illness for any length of time. But I have many friends and family members who have suffered (and are suffering) from debilitating mental illness, and sometimes it can be difficult to know how to help them.
I believe that fictionalised accounts of mental illness increase awareness of a taboo subject that many still find difficult to talk about. But the subject matter must be dealt with sensitively and empathically, and I feel the following 5 books did this successfully.
5 books about mental illness
The subject matter in this book is something which casts fear in my heart. A successful university lecturer rapidly succumbs to early-onset Alzheimer’s. Written from Alice’s point of view, this vivid portrayal of the devastation Alzheimer’s causes is a powerful and frightening read. This book absolutely broke my heart.
It’s tricky to talk about this book without spoiling it (I think the synopsis gives too much away, so read with caution!). In essence, this book is about a man with learning difficulties who enters an experimental programme to increase his intelligence. I don’t want to say much more than, except that some readers might find the beginning a little hard to read, but stick with it! This was fascinating and so cleverly done … and you’ll probably need some tissues.
I actually saw the film of this before reading the book (the exception to my rule!), and the film astounded me – I did not see THAT coming! I have no idea why I hadn’t read the book, though, because books set in asylums for the criminally insane are right up my street. Anyway, the book did not disappoint. It is a really interesting look at mental illness and shows a different perspective on the subject. If you enjoy police/crime fiction you’ll love this one (and I highly recommend the film too!)
This book won the Costa Book of the Year Award in 2013, and very well deserved it was too! Written by a mental health nurse, the story follow’s one man’s struggle with schizophrenia after the death of his brother. I felt the subject was sensitively handled by the author, while remaining uplifting and wonderful.
How could any list of books about mental illness not include this? A terrifying glimpse of mental institutions in the not-too-distant past, this one had me gripped. The characters are varied, troubled and interesting. The ending shattered me.
3 books I want to read
There are so many books on this subject out there, but these 3 are top of my TBR list:
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson – I’ve heard so many good things about this book. I’m intrigued.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan – this book sounds so much like my cup of tea I have no idea why I haven’t picked it up yet!
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida – while Autism is not a mental illness, it can certainly have an impact on mental health. Any book that increases awareness and understanding of Autism is good with me!
It’s Good to Talk