It’s 2017 and we’re still looking for ways to address the ever-looming concern of mental health issues in society. That’s not to say that all is lost or we aren’t doing enough because frank discussions of mental health issues have finally begun.

Kudos should be given to Deepika Padukone, who very candidly discussed her battle with depression. It also helps that mental health issues are a topic of conversation in the opinion-forming fields of popular culture.

To see life through the lens of someone whose brain is wired differently from your own is a special experience and one that can teach you empathy in ways that are hard to arrive at on your own.

While many authors write about mental health issues, there are some who portray the struggle of their protagonists with such poignant prose that it’s hard to not sit up and pay attention to what they’re saying.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

01 the bell jar books about mental illness

This semi-autobiographical novel is the only one that the famed poet Sylvia Plath ever wrote. The protagonist, Esther Greenwood, a young woman from the suburbs of Boston, aspires to a life that sounds familiar to most people, but as she gradually descends into depression, parallels emerge with Plath’s own life. Although the novel is dark, it’s considered essential reading in schools across the world for it’s beautiful prose and sensitive portrayal of depression and the maddening trappings of ambition in a lonely world.

The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night Time, Mark Haddon

02 the curious incident of the dog in the night time books about mental illness

Christopher Boone is 15-years-old and lives in Swindon, England, with his father and his pet rat, Toby. He describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties” and he has never been further than the end of the road he lives on, but all that is set to change after the discovery of the “murder” of his neighbour’s pet dog.  There’s just one thing in the way of Boone going full Sherlock Holmes with his investigations – Asperger’s syndrome. And there’s rarely been such a superbly realised vision of the condition.

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Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh

03 hyperbole and a half books about mental illness

Brosh runs one of the most popular blogs on the internet and is something of a literary celebrity herself and she took years’ worth of posts, along with plenty of unpublished material, and compiled them into a form-breaking novel that puts it all out there. That someone can be so funny when talking about experiencing mental health issues such as depression is a testament to the power of great writing. And if her classic character sketch looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you recognise it from the memes.

Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson

04 wintergirls books about mental illness

From depression to something that’s just as insidious, we look now at this wonderful (and frankly exhausting, but in a good way) novel which breathes new life into the wearied genre of teenage fiction. Haunted by the memory of her best friend who died alone in a motel room, Lia, our protagonist, is thrown into a downward spiral of anorexia and self-harm that threatens to consume her entirely. The novel proceeds at a high pace and is delivered with exceptional stylistic flourish, so don’t write it off just because it’s meant for teenage girls – there’s plenty to learn here for everyone.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

05 perks of being a wallflower books about mental illness

If you’ve seen the film by the same name and liked it, we can guarantee that you’ll love the novel that the film was based on. Chbosky writes with a control and rhythm that’s rare to find in the Young Adult genre, which elevates this novel despite its reliance on common YA themes such as mental health, substance abuse and sexuality. The protagonist, Charlie, is so incredibly relatable to anyone who’s struggled with issues of identity during their teenage years and, by the time you read the uplifting and hopeful end to this novel, you’ll be glad to have walked a mile in his shoes.

The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks

06 the man who mistook his wife for a hat books about mental illness

If fiction isn’t your thing, this collection of essays from neurologist Oliver Sacks describes the case histories of some of his more interesting patients. Today, we have names and medical terms for most mental illnesses out there, but hiding the reality of the condition behind a title robs it of some of the humanity it ought to be addressed with. Sacks helps us empathise with a range of real-life characters – from the mariner who can’t form new memories after the end of World War II to the autistic savant twins who would go on to become the inspiration behind many of the tropes we see of autism in modern films – through his investigations.

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