The best books to reveal the truth about mental illness

Who am I?

In addition to my lived experience as someone who has struggled with mental health and addiction since adolescence, I'm passionate about social justice issues related to mental illness and substance use. In June 2021, I completed a post-graduate program in Mental Health & Addictions. Throughout my studies I was able to gain a deeper understanding of how my own struggles developed and what they have come to mean to me from both a personal and clinical perspective. Now, I endeavor to pursue future writing projects in various genres that illuminate mental health issues as a relevant and timely topic of interest. I also hope to work with disenfranchised populations while pursuing my creative writing.   

I wrote...

The Death of Small Creatures

By Trisha Cull,

Book cover of The Death of Small Creatures

What is my book about?

In The Death of Small Creatures, Cull strives to cope with her hopelessness. She finds comfort in the company of her two pet rabbits until one of them dies due to her lethargy. She numbs herself with alcohol. She validates her self-worth by seeking the love of men and three relationships significantly impact her life. She tries drugs and after two hospitalizations, she undergoes electroconvulsive therapy. This immersive memoir explores love in all its facets and plunges the reader headlong into the experience of mental illness.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

Why did I love this book?

I read Darkness Visible in the midst of my worst depressive episode around 2008. I remember relating completely to his vivid descriptions of highly abstract psychological sensations, impending doom, for example, in which one feels askew to her or his surroundings, like death is imminent but you don’t know from where or how. Styron describes depression as being not unlike physical pain, and that moment in which you simply and utterly succumb to a kind of unprecedented existential suffering, if you will. It is a moment of agony, tender, fierce and absolute. Without a hint of self-indulgence, his rendering of depression is immaculate, a reckoning of the self, a crucible.

By William Styron,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Darkness Visible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a story of depression a condition that reduced William Styron from a person enjoying life and success as an acclaimed writer, to a man engulfed and menaced by mental anguish. With profound insight and remarkable candor, Styron tracks the progress of his madness, from the smothering misery and exhaustion, to the agony of composing his own suicide note and his eventual, hard-won recovery. Illuminating an illness that affects millions but which remains widely misunderstood, this book is about the darkness of depression, but it is also ultimately about survival and redemption.


By Glennon Doyle,

Book cover of Untamed

Why did I love this book?

Doyle describes her history with addiction and bulimia, though she does so from a place of stability. For example, she reflects on the trauma of her past, but her trauma is couched in her presently transformed existence. I related to this powerful story as it is not unlike my own journey—a story of convalescence, a burning desire to transcend the perils of mental illness and addiction. Doyle uncovers how both the personal, familial, and social constraints of her childhood, and indeed of her adulthood, had historically shaped and constrained her choices. In both Doyle’s story and my own, the reader will sense the same desire to be “untamed,” a desire to overcome one’s limitations and to strive toward contentment and self-agency.

By Glennon Doyle,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Untamed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • OVER TWO MILLION COPIES SOLD! “Packed with incredible insight about what it means to be a woman today.”—Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club Pick)

In her most revealing and powerful memoir yet, the activist, speaker, bestselling author, and “patron saint of female empowerment” (People) explores the joy and peace we discover when we stop striving to meet others’ expectations and start trusting the voice deep within us.

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY O: The Oprah Magazine • The Washington Post • Cosmopolitan • Marie Claire • Bloomberg • Parade •…

Madness: A Bipolar Life

By Marya Hornbacher,

Book cover of Madness: A Bipolar Life

Why did I love this book?

Hornbacher details her experience of living with bipolar disorder—the psychological escapades, the unimaginable highs, and devastating lows. These transcendent highs and crippling lows are mirrored in the strange delights and perils of the physical world. She is the life of parties, dressed provocatively in silky red dresses and matching ruby lipstick. But she is also capable of breaking ties with reality, hopping in a car with a boyfriend and travelling across the state for no reason in particular, an adventure in which the pleasure of the high becomes too much, too dangerous to be reckoned with. 

I too recall waking up at 2 am, writing for 18 hours straight, (without a water or pee break), and creating a beautiful essay in one draft which was later published. I once spent two days and nights in a blinding fury of elation that was simultaneously beautiful and terrifying. I too remember in my most desperate moments how the white concrete sidewalk squares seemed to wobble as I walked upon them; the world slipping out from under my feet. And the harrowing horrible daylight, too much for my senses.  Hornbacher is a genius, a voice of her generation. I aspire to be in such astonishing company in the literary world.  

By Marya Hornbacher,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Madness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Pulitzer Prize–nominated author of Wasted, Marya Hornbacher's astonishing New York Times best-selling memoir from the belly of bipolar disorder.

Marya Hornbacher tells the story that until recently she had no idea was hers to tell: that of her life with Type I ultra-rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, the most severe form of bipolar disease.

In Madness, Hornbacher relates that bipolar can spawn eating disorders, substance abuse, promiscuity, and self-mutilation, and that for too long these symptoms have masked, for many of the three million people in America with bipolar, their underlying illness. Hornbacher’s fiercely self-aware portrait of bipolar, starting as early as…

Book cover of Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America

Why did I love this book?

The late Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation is brilliantly constructed, intelligent, gritty, direct, even sardonic at times. She was a no-bullshit writer, a forerunner in the field of literary nonfiction, one of the first writers of her generation to tell the truth about mental illness and bulldoze the taboo of stigma related to this otherwise unpalatable topic.  

In this memoir, she takes us by the hand and pulls us tenderly at times, and forcefully at other times, into her intimate world of mental illness. Even as a little girl away at camp she struggles with depression and contemplations of life and death; she attempts suicide for the first time at camp. Later, as an award-winning Harvard student, we see her deteriorate further into madness, until at last she is prescribed Prozac, and things turn around. While the meds help her, she also had foresight into the dangers of pharmaceutical companies, and their self-serving desire to pathologize human experience into various mental crises.

Wurtzel succumbed to breast cancer on January 7th, 2020.

Rest in Peace, Elizabeth. You changed my life. You rocked my world.

By Elizabeth Wurtzel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prozac Nation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Elizabeth Wurtzel's New York Times best-selling memoir, with a new afterword

"Sparkling, luminescent prose . . . A powerful portrait of one girl's journey through the purgatory of depression and back." —New York Times

"A book that became a cultural touchstone." —New Yorker

Elizabeth Wurtzel writes with her finger on the faint pulse of an overdiagnosed generation whose ruling icons are Kurt Cobain, Xanax, and pierced tongues. Her famous memoir of her bouts with depression and skirmishes with drugs, Prozac Nation is a witty and sharp account of the psychopharmacology of an era for readers of Girl, Interrupted and Sylvia…

Girl, Interrupted

By Susanna Kaysen,

Book cover of Girl, Interrupted

Why did I love this book?

The prose style in the memoir, Girl, Interrupted, is clean, concise, and unembellished. The spare writing leaves no room for self-pity, yet still tells a vivid story of mental unraveling and convalescence concurrently. Kaysen meets a cast of vulnerable characters during her nearly year-long commitment in a psychiatric hospital. They form unlikely friendships, and we get to know all of their various neuroses in a stifling environment that is at once a cage and a path to self-discovery and health. 

I was reminded of my own two commitments to psychiatric hospitals, how strange and austere the world became in those weeks, how time became irrelevant with the breakfast, lunch and dinner announcements, medication time, nightly bed checks, and the ironic “fresh air breaks,” on the back steps of the ward where I and my own unlikely cast of characters smoked cigarettes and commiserated about our unique predicaments. 

I was reminded in reading Girl, Interrupted that it is possible, even in the midst of mental turmoil, to experience epiphanies of self-understanding.

By Susanna Kaysen,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Girl, Interrupted as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Futaro Uesugi is a second-year in high school, scraping to get by and pay off his family's debt. The only thing he can do is study, so when Futaro receives a part-time job offer to tutor the five daughters of a wealthy businessman, he can't pass it up. Little does he know, these five beautiful sisters are quintuplets, but the only thing they have in common is that they're all terrible at studying! At this rate, the sisters can't graduate, and Futaro must think of a plan that suits each of them - which feels hopeless when five-out-of-five of these…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in mental health, bipolar disorder, and psychiatric hospitals?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about mental health, bipolar disorder, and psychiatric hospitals.

Mental Health Explore 144 books about mental health
Bipolar Disorder Explore 33 books about bipolar disorder
Psychiatric Hospitals Explore 35 books about psychiatric hospitals

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Mists of Avalon, Everything Is Figureoutable, and Big Magic if you like this list.