11 Empathetic Books About Struggles With Mental Illness

Because mental illness still carries such a strong stigma in our society, books about characters who have depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues are important. If you want to get a new perspective on these illnesses and the effects they can have on people's lives, check out the eye-opening works listed here. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Books About Mental Health Issues: Our 11 Picks

Title Author
1. What Happens Now Jennifer Castle
2. Damnation Island Stacy Horn
3. Dear Fang, With Love Rufi Thorpe
4. Whistle in the Dark Emma Healey
5. Before My Eyes Caroline Bock
6. The Last Thing I Told You Emily Arsenault
7. Falling Into the Fire Christine Montross
8. The Noonday Demon Andrew Solomon
9. The Waiting Game Jessica Thompson
10. All Things New Lauren Miller
11. The Heartland Nathan Filer

Non-Profits That Focus on Mental Health

Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness

In Depth

Mental health issues can be treated carelessly in the media, and those who suffer from real conditions are often portrayed as villains. Thankfully, there are many writers working to erase the stigma by providing thoughtful and caring looks at a variety of disorders. In no particular order, here are eleven empathetic books about struggles with mental illness.

Kicking off our list at #1 is "What Happens Now" by Jennifer Castle. After a self-harming incident, Ari Logan is desperately trying to deal with her depression. She takes medication and visits her therapist regularly, but she still struggles. When she sees Camden Armstrong on the beach one day, she longs for his easy, outgoing life. The two become friends, and Ari discovers the careful facade that covers up Camden's depression. Together they navigate the complexities of friendship and love as they help each other through the darkness.

At #2 is "Damnation Island" by Stacy Horn. In this nonfiction book, Horn explores the horrors of New York's Blackwell Island, the site of a "lunatic asylum" in the 1800s. People were often incarcerated for no other reason than being eccentric, the conditions were deplorable, and racism was rampant. In an attempt to rehabilitate folks that were deemed criminals, indigent, or insane, doctors doled out barbaric treatments. Horn's research sheds some light on a dark corner of American history many readers may be unfamiliar with.

Horn's research sheds some light on a dark corner of American history many readers may be unfamiliar with.

#3 on the list is "Dear Fang, With Love" by Rufi Thorpe. Lucas is just starting to rebuild a relationship with his seventeen-year-old daughter Vera when she suffers a psychotic breakdown. Desperate to give her a fresh start and help her recover, he takes her to Lithuania to spend the summer and learn about their heritage. While there, Lucas and Vera uncover secrets about their family that threaten to tear them apart. Thorpe's novel weaves together the intricacies of illness, trust, and unconditional love.

#4 is "Whistle in the Dark" by Emma Healey. Hugh and Jen Maddox's lives are nearly shattered when their fifteen-year-old daughter Lana disappears. She is found four days later, bloodied and disoriented, unable to recollect what happened. Jen, who has always feared that her daughter's depression could take over, feels helpless. She retraces Lana's footsteps in the hopes of unearthing some answers. Through her journey, she gains a deeper understanding of what her daughter deals with.

For #5 we have "Before My Eyes" by Caroline Bock. With her mother recovering from a stroke in the hospital, seventeen-year-old Claire has spent the entire summer caring for her little sister. Lonely, she befriends Max and Barkley at a local beachside cafe and things soon become complicated. Unbeknownst to others, Barkley is suffering from schizophrenia and yearns to rid the town of evil. Everything comes to a head on Labor Day when violence erupts in the town. Told from three perspectives, this novel shares the intricacies of young love and the crippling effects of untreated illness.

With her mother recovering from a stroke in the hospital, seventeen-year-old Claire has spent the entire summer caring for her little sister.

#6 is "The Last Thing I Told You" by Emily Arsenault. Nadine Raines has a dark and violent past, but she has tried to move on with her life. However, her past comes back to haunt her when her former psychologist, Dr. Fabian, winds up dead. Detective Henry Peacher discovers that the doctor had recently looked at two patient files: one belonging to Nadine, his former classmate, and the other to Johnny Streeter, a convicted mass shooter. In this gripping thriller, Peacher must piece together the connection between the murder and Nadine, who looks guilty on the surface, but perhaps not everything is as it seems.

The #7 selection is "Falling Into the Fire" by Christine Montross. In this nonfiction work, Dr. Montross recounts her time treating patients in a locked psychiatric ward. She provides an interesting history of certain conditions and how these issues are treated with modern interventions. From bipolar disorder to self-harm, she sheds light on how medical professionals attempt to decipher the complexities of the human mind.

For #8 we find "The Noonday Demon" by Andrew Solomon. Depression is a widely diagnosed but often misunderstood condition. In this comprehensive yet accessible tome, Solomon discusses the history, biology, manifestations, and treatment of clinical depression. As a man who has battled this disorder himself, Solomon weaves in his personal experience and shows that there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution.

Depression is a widely diagnosed but often misunderstood condition.

#9 on the list is Jessica Thompson's "The Waiting Game." Pain is no stranger for Nessa. Having lost her parents at a young age, enduring nightmarish years in a foster home, and becoming a teenage mother, she has endured much heartache. Her life shatters once again when her husband, who suffers from PTSD, disappears after a tour of duty in Afghanistan. To complicate matters, she is struggling to parent her angry and rebellious daughter Poppy. Her childhood friend Will Turnbull is there to comfort Nessa, but she finds herself falling for him and feels conflicted, as she's unsure if her husband will ever come home.

At #10 we have "All Things New" by Lauren Miller. Although seventeen-year-old Jessa suffers from a severe anxiety disorder, she's become quite adept at hiding it from her peers. After a near-fatal car accident leaves her with scars and brain damage, her ailments are no longer invisible. Needing to escape, she flees from California to live with her father in Colorado. It's not until she meets Marshall at her new high school that she begins to open up and start the process of healing.

Finally, at #11 is "The Heartland" by Nathan Filer. Having worked as a psychiatric nurse, Filer recounts the years he spent treating individuals suffering from schizophrenia. From personal stories to expert opinions, he provides an easy-to-understand overview of the history, causes, and treatment of the disorder. Moreover, this eye-opening read provides an honest look into the perceptions and stigma surrounding mental health issues.