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Books to Connect Us: Reading for Mental Health

Last Thursday was R U OK? Day, an initiative that strives for a world where we’re all connected and protected from suicide. It’s a brilliant and much-needed initiative, and one that emphasises the importance of mental health awareness – and the importance of talking about our thoughts, feelings, and struggles.

People have been writing about mental health for quite some time – in fact, some of the most famous books in history are about the curious ways in which our minds work, and there have been some stunning new releases over the past few years that follow a similar vein. Reading books is a great way to develop a sense of empathy and understand not only other people’s experiences with mental illness, but perhaps also your own thoughts and feelings. Here is a list of amazing novels, old and new, fiction and non-fiction, that explore the complexity of the human condition, and remind us that mental illness is a very universal, human experience that we are still yet to fully comprehend.

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

This book makes us think twice about the lonely people in our lives, and the ways in which we can extend a helping hand. The protagonist, Eleanor, thinks she is completely fine (as the title suggests) – however, it isn’t until others show her kindness that she is able to see the holes in her life, teaching us to never underestimate the power of small gestures.

Happy Never After by Jill Stark

Jill Stark was living the dream. She had a coveted job as a senior journalist, she was dating a sports star, and her first book had just become a bestseller. After years of chasing the fairytale ending, she’d finally found it. And then it all fell apart.

Getting her happy-ever-after plunged Jill into the darkest period of her life, forcing her to ask if she’d been sold a lie. What if all the things that she’d been told would make her happy were red herrings? Could it be that the relentless pursuit of happiness was making her miserable?

From the ashes of Jill’s epic breakdown comes this raw, funny, and uplifting exploration of our age of anxiety. Charting her own life-long battles with mental-health problems, Jill asks why, in a western world with more opportunity, choice, and wealth than ever before, so many of us are depressed, anxious, and medicated. When we’ve never had more ways to connect, why do we feel so profoundly disconnected?

Lost Connections by Johann Hari

Award-winning journalist Johann Hari suffered from depression since he was a child and started taking anti-depressants when he was a teenager. He was told like his entire generation that his problem was caused by a chemical imbalance in his brain. As an adult, trained in the social sciences, he began to investigate this question and he learned that almost everything we have been told about depression and anxiety is wrong.

Across the world, Hari discovered social scientists who were uncovering their real causes and they are mostly not in our brains, but in the way we live today. Hari’s journey took him from a life-threatening experience in Vietnam, to an Amish community in Indiana, to an uprising in Berlin all showing in vivid and dramatic detail these new insights. They lead to radically different solutions to the ones we have been offered up to now.

Lost Connections leads us to a very different debate about depression and anxiety one that shows how, together, we can end this epidemic.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara:

When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome-but that will define his life forever.

In a remarkable and precise prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.

A Little Life took the world by storm when it was released in 2015, and remains highly popular today for its in-depth exploration of the human psyche and complexities of the human mind.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther’s life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into depression and eventually a suicide attempt, as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take women’s aspirations seriously.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, remains today one of the most famous literary depictions of mental illness and suicide. One of the truly great writers of all time, Plath takes you into the darkest corners of her mind, sharing with you her deepest thoughts and feelings, as well as her musings on life and death. A true classic.

 


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