10 Non-Fiction Books About Mental Health


For Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20th May), I thought I’d chat about 10 books about mental health that are on my wishlist, TBR, or that I’ve read.

Mad Girl: A Happy Life with a Mixed-up Mind by Bryony Gordon

Mad Girl is super accessible. It reads just like having a chat with Bryony over coffee about her OCD, and is really enjoyable and funny. Mad Girl does what I think we all should do: talk about mental health as if we were talking about the flu, honestly and without fear of judgement.

A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes: Naming and Shaming Mental Health Stigmas by Lucy Nichol

I was sent a copy recently by Trigger Press as part of their mental health awareness campaign. As someone who deals with anxiety, Lucy discusses the ways in which mental illness is viewed, and tackles unfair stereotypes e.g. that people with mental illness are ‘narcissists’, ‘hypochondriacs’ and ‘psycho’.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Matt Haig suffers from depression (like 20% of people) and Reasons to Stay Alive is his award-winning book on how he copes with the illness. It’s loved by many and one I hope to finally read this year.

A Beginner’s Guide to Being Mental: An A-Z by Natasha Devon

One for millennials, this is a guide to mental illness, from A (anxiety) to Z (zero f**ks given).

It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot

Ruby’s illustrations show what it’s like to suffer from all kinds of mental health issues: anxiety, bipolar disorder, self-harm, eating disorders, and depression. We all know that mental health needs to be talked about more, and I really do think that humour – visual humour especially – can be a great way to do it.

How to Survive the End of the World (When it’s in Your Own Head) by Aaron Gillies

If you don’t follow @TechnicallyRon on Twitter, do it now! He’s so hilarious and relatable, and I can’t wait to read his first book. He talks about the impact that anxiety has and gives readers some tools to fight back alongside his trademark humour.

The Time in Between: A Memoir of Hunger and Hope by Nancy Tucker

Nancy was diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia as a teenager and The Time in Between is her memoir of her experience and recovery.

The Self-Care Project by Jayne Hardy

Self care is something we all should do and I can’t wait to get my hands on this book, written by the founder and CEO of The Blurt Foundation, a charity that aims to increase awareness and understanding of depression.

It’s All In Your Head: A Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together by Rae Earl

Aimed at teenagers, It’s All in Your Head is full of friendly advice, coping strategies and laugh-out-loud moments to get you through the difficult days written by someone who gets it.

Secrets for the Mad: Obsessions, Confessions and Life Lessons by Dodie Clark

A mix of doodles, poetry and prose all about self-care, mental health, life and relationships: “This is for the people with minds that just don’t stop; for those who feel everything seemingly a thousand times more than the people around them.”

Mini Book Reviews / Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Suicide Club, The Sun and Her Flowers & Milk and Honey

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

“I find lateness exceptionally rude; it’s so disrespectful, implying unambiguously that you consider yourself and your own time to be so much more valuable than the other person’s.”

How could I not read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine?! It seemed like readers with all different tastes adored this novel and so, without knowing much about it, I jumped in.

Although Eleanor is not what other people consider “normal”, she’s a 30-year-old woman who’s competent at her day job, a Tesco fangirl (home to her weekly frozen pizza and vodka), and, minus the weekly frustrating phone calls with her incarcerated mother, she’s doing perfectly all right. That is, until she becomes friends with Raymond, the new guy from work. He’s a man-child and quite disgusting but they seem to be becoming… mates? And so Eleanor is forced to break her routine. Even if she refuses to admit it, she is lonely. Throughout the novel, we watch Eleanor open herself up to other people and discover that she doesn’t have to do everything alone.

“LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally.”

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is all about our quirky protagonist. There is an intriguing backstory to Eleanor, but it’s the present that kept me reading. Her life is often mundane and yet Eleanor herself is anything but. I’ll watch the adaptation featuring Reese Witherspoon, even if I can’t see it doing justice to this fantastic character who has the sort of “deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit” that I’ve never experienced before. Her story is emotional and brilliant and warm. Now that I’ve finished reading, I’ll miss E.

“When you’re struggling hard to manage your own emotions, it becomes unbearable to have to witness other people’s, to have to try and manage theirs too.”

Suicide Club by Rachel Heng

It’s so much fun delving into science fiction. I used to read sci-fi often, mainly the YA dystopia and post-apocalytic type. I love reading about societies that are similar to our own, but feature advanced technology and despotic governments – although I guess this is becoming more fact, less fiction!

“In near-future New York, life expectancy averages three hundred years. Immortality is almost within our grasp. It’s hell.”

As soon as I read the above tagline, I knew Suicide Club was for me. It’s like an episode of Black Mirror but much less likely to make you feel funny afterwards. It all starts to go wrong for Lea Kirino when she spots her estranged father on the way to work. She’s a “Lifer”, so she’ll potentially live forever due to her genetic makeup, successful career and covetable relationship – if she follows the guidelines, including no fresh food, no running, no heavy music. Upon pursuing her father, Lea’s eventually drawn to the Suicide Club, a group that rejects society’s ambition and strict regulation surrounding immortality. Members are set on a life in which they get to choose whether they live or die, when, and how.

Suicide Club isn’t a fast-paced, action-adventure novel. It’s a slow-burning exploration of Lea’s world and the society she grew up in. As Lea begins to question everything she thought she knew, we’re introduced a variety of fascinating characters, each with their own motivations. What would it look like to live in a world where people lived for more than 300 years? What if only some people did, and others lived for less than 100? Rachel Heng’s near-future NYC isn’t so different to our present, where luck, money and knowing the right people can get you far. Nonetheless, I’m happy Suicide Club is mostly fictional, for now.

The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

it takes grace
to remain kind
in cruel situations – rupi kaur

I have a funny relationship with poetry. Whenever I’m asked whether I enjoy poetry, I say “no”. It makes me think of studying school poetry anthologies, when I would’ve much rather have read a novel. And yet I’ve enjoyed Sarah Crossan’s novels in verse. I’d seen so many of my friends talk about Rupi Kaur’s work that I finally bought a copy of The Sun and Her Flowers whilst visiting Pages of Hackney bookshop with my friend Louise last year. I read it over a couple of evenings and instantly saw why people adored it so much. Even if Rupi’s experiences aren’t the same as mine, I could take the poetry as my own, especially thinking about loneliness, sadness and relationship breakdowns. A friend then gifted me a copy of Milk and Honey which I found less relatable than The Sun and Her Flowers but appreciated Rupi’s talent to explore moments in life that many women around the experience, from negative body image to abusive relationships. I’m definitely up for giving more poetry a shot!

“it isn’t what we left behind
that breaks me
it’s what we could’ve built
had we stayed” – rupi kaur

What I’ve Read / Exit West, This is Going to Hurt & Lily and the Octopus

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

As you can probably tell, I mainly read young adult fiction, not literary fiction. But Exit West was the first pick for my work’s new book club. Even though it’s not one I would’ve chosen for myself (it’s my first Man Booker-shortlisted book!), I was excited to try something new – and it paid off.

Tucked up in bed, I found myself whizzing through Exit West, not wanting to put it down. It’s about Saeed and Nadia, and how this young couple’s relationships begins and changes after they’re forced to flee their war-stricken homeland. I particularly loved Nadia’s character – she’s vivid, funny and surprising. Exit West, although mostly contemporary literature, has drops of magical realism – we read about mysterious doors that act as portals to new countries. As a group, we chatted a lot about the meaning of migration and borders, a timely and sensitive topic.

Exit West was a fantastic book club pick, I’d say.

“We are all migrants through time”.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Lives of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

This is Going to Hurt is one of my favourite books of the year. If you’re all over book industry news, you’ll know that it just won the Non-Fiction Award and Readers Choice Award in the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards, and I’m sure they are the first of many accolades! I know that I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know, young and old.

This is Going to Hurt is Adam Kay’s funny and timely memoir of a junior doctor. Now a writer for film and TV comedy, Adam turned his compulsory doctors’ notes into a book. It opened my eyes to what it’s like to be a junior doctor and I particularly enjoyed the audiobook – narrated by Adam himself!

We know that Adam was a doctor for six years and left after ‘a devastating experience’ on his ward. After we realise how tough it is to be a junior doctor, and after we’re told about the impossible demands that are placed on them, we discover what forced Adam to leave the profession he worked hard to be a part of – and having this context made it even more of a tragedy.

This is Going to Hurt is hilarious, honest and heart-breaking, and makes me want to fight for the NHS even more – but not in its current form. I read another review that said don’t read it until you’ve had a baby – and I now know why! As a woman, Adam’s field of expertise (obstetrics and gynaecology) is particularly relevant to me, so that was especially interesting. Even so, This is Going to Hurt is a must read for everyone.

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley and narrated by Michael Urie

I’m on a real audiobook kick at the moment. I love listening to them on long journeys, or before going to sleep. I needed a new one and randomly picked Lily and the Octopus because I adored the cover – I’ve developed a recent love of pups, dachshunds in particularly.

‘This is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without. For Ted Flask, that someone special is his ageing companion Lily, who happens to be a dog’.

I began listening to Lily and found one half of our protagonists, Ted Flask, overly dramatic and sentimental. I’m not a fan of quirky books, and this was a little too quirky for me: Ted notices one day that Lily has a tumour on the side of her head and he refers to it as a ‘octopus’. But, as the story goes on, and we discover how Ted ended up becoming best friends with this excitable puppy, I started to become attached to Lily as much as as her owner was. I also really enjoyed Lily’s speech in the story – the audiobook probably made it funnier!

Lily and the Octopus, as I now know, is not just about loving, and the impending loss of, a beloved pet, but about depression, loneliness and relationship breakups. It’s a moving read, especially if you have your own fur baby. (And I love Lily!).

What I’ve Read / Furiously Happy, Mad Girl & It’s All Absolutely Fine


Who’s this girl, you might think, reading non-fiction? Well, I made it my mission to read (and talk about) mental health more this year and what better way to start than to read some funny books?

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

As a memoir, Furiously Happy is a concoction of anecdotes from Jenny’s life (think Hyperbole and a Half without the drawings). Jenny’s thoughts and stories about her experience of living with depression and anxiety were really interesting to read. I also found the chapters on how her husband copes with living with someone who is struggling with mental health incredibly insightful and sometimes really lovely – the quote below stayed with me long after putting the book down. Although the more random anecdotes about her life didn’t grab me as much (but you do find out the story behind the cover!), I did appreciate the advice she gives: say yes to more opportunities (even the most ridiculously absurd ones), self-sabotage is a no-no, pretend you’re good at it, and be furiously happy about the good moments as best you can.

“Last month, as Victor drove me home so I could rest, I told him that sometimes I felt like his life would be easier without me. He paused a moment in thought and then said, “It might be easier. But it wouldn’t be better.”

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

I sort of love Bryony Gordon. We couldn’t be more different, really, except for the small matter of our mental heath. That is to say, it’s a bit crap. Bryony has had OCD ever since she was a young girl and, as she got older, it caused alopecia, bulimia, and drug dependency. In her memoir, she explores the roots of her OCD and how it – and not treating it – affected her teen years and her 20s. She talks about how mental health doesn’t care about who you are (Bryony herself was a privileged child and now is a successful journalist) nor does it manifest itself in the same way in everyone – it’s a tricky thing to pin down.

Mad Girl is super accessible, just like reading a magazine article or having a chat with Bryony over coffee, which is how it should be, and it was really enjoyable and funny to read. 1 in 4 people suffer from poor mental health and Mad Girl does what I think we all should do: talk about mental health as if we were talking about the flu, honestly and without fear of judgement.

Bryony’s also started Mad World – a new podcast dedicated to talking about mental health – and I suggest you check it out (the first guest is Prince Harry!).

It’s All Absolutely Fine by Ruby Elliot

I’ve been following Ruby on Instagram for a little while. I love her hilarious yet totally relatable illustrations about mental health and the struggle of everyday life. As soon as I saw It’s All Absolutely Fine, I knew I had to have it. For many of us, it’s not absolutely fine and so yeah, it can be really comforting when someone else says “this is bullshit” about something others would not blink an eye at.

Ruby’s illustrations depict what it’s like to suffer from all kinds of mental health issues: anxiety, bipolar disorder, self-harm, eating disorders, and depression. Her drawings accompany her thoughts on mental illness and stories about what she’s gone through herself.

We all know that mental health needs to be talked about more, and I really do think that humour – visual humour especially – can be a great way to do it. A funny image that someone wants to share can reach more people than other kinds of media. Ruby herself has nearly 100,000 followers looking out for something that they’ll be able to see themselves in. It’s All Absolutely Fine is ideal for fans Hyberbole and a Half and illustrators like Veronica Dearly.

As all three of these books show, humour can be a powerful tool when talking about mental health. Even if you haven’t ‘officially’ (and I use this word loosely) been diagnosed with a mental illness, you’re sure you see or read something in these books and think “that’s me”. Because we all have mental health.

Mini Reviews: Graphic Novels

Mini Reviews: Graphic Novels
I borrowed a bunch of graphic novels from the library (read all about that here) and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting stuck into them. Here are my thoughts!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell
I must confess that I’ve never read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, but I have seen the adaptation and have been curious about how it’d work as a graphic novel. As it turns out, it’s wonderfully creepy. I expected Coraline to have bright blue hair and the story to be as whimsical as it is in the film, but the graphic novel is more realistic. I don’t think button eyes and the Other Mother will ever stop being creepy. P. Craig Russell’s illustrations capture the weirdness perfectly!

Blankets by Craig Thompson
Blankets had been on my wishlist for years. I knew it was a coming-of-age story, but I wasn’t prepared for how gritty it could be. The story of young Craig Thompson and his little brother was both bleak and poignant. The story becomes more hopeful as Craig grows older and falls in love for the first time. Even though the religious aspect was a little too heavy for me, Blankets is full of lovely cinematic panels and gorgeous illustrations.

El Deafo by Cece Bell
El Deafo is one of the best graphic novels I’ve read, about Cece Bell growing up with a severe hearing impairment in the 80s after becoming ill. El Deafo is beautifully illustrated and the story is fantastic. Cece shows us what it’s like to not only be unable to hear what’s being said but understand what’s being said. From the difficulties of making friends – especially best friends – to discovering the amazing Phonic Ear, this is a remarkable story about growing up. Cece now has superpowers: El Deafo, Listener for All!

Phonogram, Vol 2: The Singles Club by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Before I loved books, I loved music. In The Singles Club, each character gets their own comic, telling the story of one night in a dance club, in a world where music is magic – and they are all “phonomancers”. It’s a little odd and I didn’t love all the characters’ stories, but I enjoyed the bubbly Penny B and her love of dancing, The Pipettes, and beautiful boy Marc, who can’t get over his ex. It’s not a favourite, but a fun concept all the same.

The Property by Rutu Modan and translated by Jessica Cohen
I love coming across books I didn’t know about yet end up loving, but it rarely happens. The Property is the tale of Regina Segal and her granddaughter Mica, who return to Warsaw to get back the family home that was lost during the Second World War. The Property is an emotional tale of heritage and family secrets, but with a sense of humour too. I picked it up because I’m intrigued by World War II stories but I got much more: an emotional graphic novel that I continued to think about long after I put it down.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Ghost World is the story of Enid and Becky, two best friends growing up and growing apart. It’s hailed as “a must for any self-respecting comics fan’s library”. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t a teen in 90s USA, or perhaps I because I just wasn’t like these particular teens, but I found them too pretentious and unpleasant to appreciate what happened to them. Although I enjoyed the occasional panel, the story and artwork didn’t work for me. I welcome graphic novels about what it’s like to be a teenage girl, but Ghost World sadly isn’t one of them.

Have you read any of these graphic novels?

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

El Deafo

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

The Singles Club

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

Coraline

From My Bookshelves / Graphic Novels

Blankets

Frame illustrations designed by Freepik.