The best books about schizophrenia

10 authors have picked their favorite books about schizophrenia and why they recommend each book.

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The Memory Palace

By Mira Bartok,

Book cover of The Memory Palace

A harrowing and beautiful tale of two sisters growing up with a paranoid schizophrenic mother. The author describes a fine line between gentle artistic creativity and debilitating mental illness. The reader will come away with a better understanding of how deeply children are affected growing up in a dysfunctional and traumatic environment. A mother's love and a journey to forgiveness teach us the complex meaning of love.


Who am I?

I have the expertise for this topic because I was raised in a loving home with a mother who struggled with bipolar disorder. At times my life was hilariously adventurous or heart-wrenchingly sad. Given little direction, I married an alcoholic and then went on to work at a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. I have fallen on hard times, but at the age of thirty-two, as a single mother collecting welfare, I managed to grief, heal and dig myself out, creating a rewarding life. I am optimistic, and I try to find humour in all things, especially after the tears and healing have subsided. My writing has brought me tremendous healing and joy.


I wrote...

Where Is My Happy Ending?: A Journey of No Regrets

By Karen Harmon,

Book cover of Where Is My Happy Ending?: A Journey of No Regrets

What is my book about?

Karen's memoir takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 1970-1990. Looking for love in all the wrong places, Karen leaves home at seventeen at her mother's urging. She soon finds herself emersed in the disco scene, meeting unsavoury characters and going from one dead-end job to another. Where is my Happy Ending is a true story about a girl who enters adulthood after being raised in a home plagued with mental illness. A genuine, heartbreaking and heartwarming account that is relatable to women of all ages. Karen's wit and storytelling abilities and simplicity at looking at life will keep you engaged from start to finish.

Valis

By Philip K. Dick,

Book cover of Valis

VALIS—Vast Active Living Intelligence System—is one of PK Dick’s most inspiring, and at the same time, depressing, novels. A bizarre film leads a rag tag group of friends to even more bizarre adventures. They meet a 2-year-old Messiah who cures the protagonist’s psychosis. Any more would be spoiling the plot.


Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the interface of biology and the mind, and between the mind and usually invisible worlds. Both Philip K Dick and the medieval Jewish philosophers labor mightily to unpack and communicate realms of the imagination residing in science fiction as well as Hebrew Bible prophecy. Likewise, the influx of Eastern religious practices and beliefs have pointed to areas of consciousness previously unknown to the West.


I wrote...

DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

By Rick Strassman,

Book cover of DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

What is my book about?

After completing his groundbreaking research chronicled in DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Rick Strassman was left with one fundamental question: What does it mean that DMT, a simple chemical naturally found in all of our bodies, instantaneously opens us to an interactive spirit world that feels more real than our own world?

When his decades of clinical psychiatric research and Buddhist practice were unable to provide answers to this question, Strassman began searching for a more resonant spiritual model. He found that the visions of the Hebrew prophets--such as Ezekiel, Moses, Adam, and Daniel--were strikingly similar to those of the volunteers in his DMT studies. Carefully examining the concept of prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, he characterizes a "prophetic state of consciousness" and explains how it may share biological and metaphysical mechanisms with the DMT effect.

Muses, Madmen, and Prophets

By Daniel B. Smith,

Book cover of Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity

Hearing voices is considered a symptom of schizophrenia and can quickly lead to hospital lockup, medication, and being shunned by society as “mentally ill.” In this fascinating account, Smith reveals the truth about this experience we call “madness” – hearing voices is actually a normal human experience across history and culture. Poets, religious visionaries, people spending time alone or grieving – even Freud, Gandhi, actor Anthony Hopkins, singer Lady Gaga -- all heard voices, and anyone under the right kind of stress can hear voices. The problem only arises when people hear distressing voices and have nowhere to go for help other than being treated as ill by a doctor.


Psychiatry made the catastrophic mistake of calling homosexuality a mental disease, and for many decades LGBT people were abducted, confined in hospitals, drugged, tortured, and killed for the mental crime of being different. Today people who hear voices are also…


Who am I?

I was an imaginative and sensitive kid – growing up in the confusing oppressions of the US south and raised by parents who are themselves trauma survivors. When I started to go into altered states, hear voices, withdraw in frightened isolation and drift towards strange beliefs, I was forcibly locked up at Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital in San Francisco. I was drugged, put in restraints and solitary confinement, and told I was schizophrenic and would never live a normal life. Today I don’t take medication, work as a therapist teacher, and advocate, and have joined the international patients’ movement working to change an abusive and misguided mental health system. I am not anti-medication, but I see psychiatric meds for what they are – tranquilizers, not treatments, tools not solutions. We need compassionate approaches and caring communities for individuals suffering from a psychotic crisis like I was. I am also the author of the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs.


I wrote...

Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness

By Will Hall,

Book cover of Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness

What is my book about?

We need to realize that it is our world that is crazy, and those of us who lose our minds might just be having a sane reaction to an insane situation. We need to listen to the voices of people diagnosed with mental illness, not push us into the shadows. Today I’m deeply inspired to see more and more people questioning what it means to be called crazy in a crazy world, and believe we can push past the failed treatments of pharma and psychiatry and bring in a new way to respond to “madness.”

Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness reveals the human side of mental illness. In this remarkable collection of interviews and essays, therapist, Madness Radio host, and schizophrenia survivor Will Hall asks, "What does it mean to be called crazy in a crazy world?" More than 60 voices of psychiatric patients, scientists, journalists, doctors, activists, and artists create a vital new conversation about empowering the human spirit by transforming society.

When Elephants Fly

By Nancy Richardson Fischer,

Book cover of When Elephants Fly

Lily’s mom has schizophrenia and Lily is terrified that she might get it too. Lily gets personally involved in a story at her newspaper internship about an abandoned elephant calf. Feeling a kinship with the elephant, Lily goes through extraordinary lengths to make sure the calf finds a safe home, while at the same time, realizing that she has begun to show signs of mental illness. Fischer combines mental illness, family, friendship, and animal welfare into a riveting, thought-provoking book. I loved how she showed the reader how a character can live with the early stages of schizophrenia without losing her sense of self and purpose. 


Who am I?

One of the reasons I wanted to write about and explore mental health was because I was always fascinated by how the mind works and how it can turn on you without provocation. How and why some people can power through dark times, while others struggle is a topic that, within the African American community, isn't frequently discussed.  Often the advice given to someone about how to get through depression or anxiety is to pray or just dig deep and power through. It is the idea that because our ancestors suffered so much, those of us living in "easier" times should have nothing to be sad about that seems to prevent us from asking for help or getting therapy. 


I wrote...

Silhouetted by the Blue

By Traci L. Jones,

Book cover of Silhouetted by the Blue

What is my book about?

With the lead in the school musical, Serena should have it all. If only her dad’s depression wasn’t keeping him in bed, unable to care for her little brother. Living with someone with mental illness can be a challenge if you are an adult, Silhouetted explores what happens when your caretakers suffer from depression so badly that they can no longer take care of themselves or their children.

I wrote Silhouetted by the Blue about depression because I wanted to explore how living with someone with mental illness can color the lives of everyone in the household.

The Collected Schizophrenias

By Esmé Weijun Wang,

Book cover of The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays

As you probably deduced from the title, this book focuses on schizophrenia, not bipolar disorder. But it is the best mental health memoir I’ve ever read. I keep multiple copies so I can hand them out to my friends. Esmé Weijun Wang is a beautiful writer, and the book contains deep, insightful reflections on the weight of stigma and the nature of a psychiatric diagnosis.


Who am I?

I’m a writer and illustrator based in coastal California. I have bipolar disorder, and my writing reflects my preoccupation with the mysteries of mental health. I wrote a novel-in-stories about an idealistic young teacher struggling with bipolar disorder, and my latest book is a graphic novel about a bipolar bear who gets trapped in the labyrinth of health insurance claims. I’m also the creator of a website designed to encourage people who are fighting off depression’s Voice of Doom. 


I wrote...

Bipolar Bear and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Health Insurance: A Fable for Grownups

By Kathleen Founds,

Book cover of Bipolar Bear and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Health Insurance: A Fable for Grownups

What is my book about?

Bipolar Bear and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Health Insurance: A Fable for Grown-ups is a funny, whimsical, graphic novel about a bipolar bear who confronts the labyrinth of health insurance claims. 

No One Cares about Crazy People

By Ron Powers,

Book cover of No One Cares about Crazy People: My Family and the Heartbreak of Mental Illness in America

Ron and Honoree Powers’ story is far more searing than my family’s story, but their experience surely resonated with me. There’s a whole genre of books by parents who take us along with them on their journeys with mentally ill children (see Pete Earley’s Crazy, as well), weaving in the history of our treatment of the mentally ill. Powers is the best I’ve read, and he does such a sweeping survey of that history, I decided not to cover the same territory in my book—but to concentrate on Mike’s story. The Powers have two sons, both diagnosed with schizophrenia. Kevin doesn’t make it, succumbing to suicide. Dean manages to live a relatively stable life. The “grief and hope” of my subtitle are both here, fiercely told.


Who am I?

I’d been writing for forty years before I could write about the biggest story in my life. My 25 non-fiction books about the American West—landscape, Native peoples, conservation—are a joy to research, photograph, and create. But I had unfinished emotional business: my mentally ill brother who left home when I was six, never to return. After everyone in my family was gone, it was finally safe. I began to recreate my brother’s life, reveling in research. I know how to do that. Opening myself emotionally to the heart of my family story took far longer. Empathy is a choice, and I’ve made my choice.


I wrote...

The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope

By Stephen Trimble,

Book cover of The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope

What is my book about?

I had my line. “I had an older brother who left home when I was six. Mike lived with three diagnoses: retardation, schizophrenia, epilepsy. He died years ago.” Then, after my parents died, I dared to open the incendiary envelope, The Mike File, recording my brother’s heartrending place in our family.

Mike’s commitment to the Colorado State Hospital in 1957, at fourteen, his deinstitutionalization ten years later, and his death in a rathole of a boarding house in 1976 parallel our tragic societal failures. You know people like Mike. Millions of families cope with such heartbreak. We can do better, and I close with my imagined vision of how we could have done right by Mike—an alternative effective version of mental healthcare in America.

Mad in America

By Robert Whitaker,

Book cover of Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill

Robert Whitaker’s books inform my work. Both Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic provided crucial policy background as I searched for my brother's personhood. Whitaker’s deep research and ferocious insistence that we rethink psychiatric care guided me into the world of mental illness, the history of treatment, and the controversy over forcing medication on unwilling people. I sympathize with Whitaker and the people who believe anti-psychotics make things worse. But I also meet many with diagnoses who believe in the mantra, “take your meds.” Best practices cannot be one-size (pill)-fits all. I end my own book by imagining the best possible world for mental health treatment—guided both by Whitaker and his most vehement critic, E. Fuller Torrey.


Who am I?

I’d been writing for forty years before I could write about the biggest story in my life. My 25 non-fiction books about the American West—landscape, Native peoples, conservation—are a joy to research, photograph, and create. But I had unfinished emotional business: my mentally ill brother who left home when I was six, never to return. After everyone in my family was gone, it was finally safe. I began to recreate my brother’s life, reveling in research. I know how to do that. Opening myself emotionally to the heart of my family story took far longer. Empathy is a choice, and I’ve made my choice.


I wrote...

The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope

By Stephen Trimble,

Book cover of The Mike File: A Story of Grief and Hope

What is my book about?

I had my line. “I had an older brother who left home when I was six. Mike lived with three diagnoses: retardation, schizophrenia, epilepsy. He died years ago.” Then, after my parents died, I dared to open the incendiary envelope, The Mike File, recording my brother’s heartrending place in our family.

Mike’s commitment to the Colorado State Hospital in 1957, at fourteen, his deinstitutionalization ten years later, and his death in a rathole of a boarding house in 1976 parallel our tragic societal failures. You know people like Mike. Millions of families cope with such heartbreak. We can do better, and I close with my imagined vision of how we could have done right by Mike—an alternative effective version of mental healthcare in America.

Outside Mental Health

By Will Hall,

Book cover of Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness

“What does it mean to be called crazy in a crazy world?” asks Will Hall, the host of Madness Radio. Hall is one of the most gifted media hosts whom I have ever been interviewed by, as he is especially talented in drawing out his subjects. Hall is unique in that he is also a therapist who was once diagnosed with schizophrenia. Outside Mental Health is a collection of his interviews with more than 60 scientists, journalists, doctors, activist ex-psychiatric patients, and artists who provide alternative visions to psychiatry’s medical model—a paradigm that has been nonproductive and counterproductive for many people.


Who am I?

I am a practicing clinical psychologist, often at odds with the mainstream of my mental health profession. I have a strong interest in how society, culture, politics, philosophy, and psychology intersect, and my previous books about depression, activism, and anti-authoritarianism reflect that. The late historian Howard Zinn described me this way: “It is always refreshing to find someone who stands at the edge of his profession and dissects its failures with a critical eye, refusing to be deceived by its pretensions. Bruce Levine condemns the cold, technological approach to mental health and, to our benefit, looks for deeper solutions.”


I wrote...

A Profession Without Reason: The Crisis of Contemporary Psychiatry―Untangled and Solved by Spinoza, Freethinking, and Radical Enlightenment

By Bruce E. Levine,

Book cover of A Profession Without Reason: The Crisis of Contemporary Psychiatry―Untangled and Solved by Spinoza, Freethinking, and Radical Enlightenment

What is my book about?

The field of psychiatry is in crisis and requires a fresh look. The former director of the National Institute of Mental Health has said: “Whatever we’ve been doing for five decades, it ain’t working,” and he and other prominent psychiatrists have now discarded psychiatry’s chemical imbalance theory of mental illness and declared psychiatry’s DSM diagnostic manual to be invalid.

My goal was to interest freethinkers and critical thinkers of science, philosophy, politics, and history who would not ordinarily read a book about psychiatry. I believe that readers unfamiliar with the radical Enlightenment thinker Baruch Spinoza will be intrigued by his life and the modern relevance of his ideas. With Spinoza’s help, A Profession Without Reason untangles the crisis of contemporary psychiatry—and helps solve it.

The Divided Self

By R.D. Laing,

Book cover of The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness

The Divided Self kick-started my search for the truth of the human condition. It taught me that I didn't have to follow the life laid out for me and that I was expected to follow. Through it I discovered that I was not the only person trapped in a world and struggling to make sense of the bizarre and contradictory reality around me, that lied and lied about existence continually. Further books by him reinforced this awareness of the illogic of it all, including The Politics of Experience, The Self and Others, and Knots. I was Brer Rabbit, caught in the honey trap of the tar baby and this book showed me that.


Who am I?

My passion and subsequent expertise in this subject have followed years of self-study and reading. I have tried to make sense of the conflicting views that the world has thrown at me, confusing me by each claiming to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (the seller's marketplace). The books in this series, reflect how difficult it is to be yourself and how much courage it takes to break free of your conditioning, parental or societal. It covers the necessary breakdown of the internal personality, so that a new you can emerge from the cocoon of the reassembled old you, butterfly-like.


I wrote...

Observations from Another Planet

By Tony Sandy,

Book cover of Observations from Another Planet

What is my book about?

My own book, Observations From Another Planet, is one of two collections of my own thoughts, where I have tried to understand certain behaviours of other people, carried out by them and the justification they give to their acts, including the lies they tell themselves about their motives for doing things as though life is a courtroom and they are afraid of being found guilty of the crime of life.

Soteria

By Loren R. Mosher, Voyce Hendrix Fort,

Book cover of Soteria

What would happen if instead of throwing people into jail-like mental wards and hammering them with tranquilizing drugs, we instead welcomed them into home-like settings and spent time listening and caring, patiently giving them time and space to explore the emotional roots of their crisis? Psychiatrist Loren Mosher did just that in the Soteria House research project in the 1970s and 80s, and the results were clear: people do better without medications and with listening and caring in a safe environment instead.

Mosher was the first chief of the Center for Studies of Schizophrenia of the National Institutes of Mental Health but you’ve probably never heard of him – his innovative project proved that psychosis can be healed more effectively without medication and outside of  hospitals, but came at a time when biological and pharmaceutical solutions – and the profits they generate – came to dominate psychiatry, so he was…


Who am I?

I was an imaginative and sensitive kid – growing up in the confusing oppressions of the US south and raised by parents who are themselves trauma survivors. When I started to go into altered states, hear voices, withdraw in frightened isolation and drift towards strange beliefs, I was forcibly locked up at Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital in San Francisco. I was drugged, put in restraints and solitary confinement, and told I was schizophrenic and would never live a normal life. Today I don’t take medication, work as a therapist teacher, and advocate, and have joined the international patients’ movement working to change an abusive and misguided mental health system. I am not anti-medication, but I see psychiatric meds for what they are – tranquilizers, not treatments, tools not solutions. We need compassionate approaches and caring communities for individuals suffering from a psychotic crisis like I was. I am also the author of the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs.


I wrote...

Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness

By Will Hall,

Book cover of Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness

What is my book about?

We need to realize that it is our world that is crazy, and those of us who lose our minds might just be having a sane reaction to an insane situation. We need to listen to the voices of people diagnosed with mental illness, not push us into the shadows. Today I’m deeply inspired to see more and more people questioning what it means to be called crazy in a crazy world, and believe we can push past the failed treatments of pharma and psychiatry and bring in a new way to respond to “madness.”

Outside Mental Health: Voices and Visions of Madness reveals the human side of mental illness. In this remarkable collection of interviews and essays, therapist, Madness Radio host, and schizophrenia survivor Will Hall asks, "What does it mean to be called crazy in a crazy world?" More than 60 voices of psychiatric patients, scientists, journalists, doctors, activists, and artists create a vital new conversation about empowering the human spirit by transforming society.

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