Finding a book that treats mental illness seriously and accurately can be exhausting.
Novels with mentally ill characters are hard to come across as a whole, and many of them are written by authors who don’t really understand what it feels like to live as a mentally ill person. I’ve read countless books where mood disorders are written in for jokes and neurodivergent people are treated as children or even criminals.
I’ve found that some of the best novels about mental illness are written by authors who have lived it. Even if the book is fiction, they author is able to draw off of their own personal experiences which makes it easier for the reader to relate and allows them to find comfort and validation in knowing that they aren’t alone.
Here’s a list of novels that give compelling, sincere, and sometimes hilarious perspectives on what it’s like to live with a mental illness.
Ordinary People by Judith Guest
Ordinary People is a story about what happens to families that experience severe trauma. The book’s protagonist is Conrad, a teenager seeking treatment for his depression after the death of his older brother. Conrad’s recovery is long and difficult, and even when he thinks he feels okay, he discovers it’s not easy to return to his previous life. These feelings of frustration and helplessness are things that most people with depression can relate to, and Guest does a great job of showing how trauma and illness can affect people in different ways.
Autistic blessings and Bipolar me: A Frank and Brutally Honest Diary of a Mother with Bipolar and Her Two Autistic Boys by E.J. Plows
Author Emma Plows was hit with three life changing diagnoses within the span of five years. However Plow doesn’t let her bipolar disorder or the fact that both of her sons are on the autism spectrum define who her family is. Plows is funny and unapologetically honest as she gives readers a look into her life as a mom who is constantly trying to find the balance between taking care of her sons and her own mental health. In her casual, diary like style, she also covers topics like prenatal depression and the beauty in raising children with autism. In her author’s note, she writes ‘I am Emma Plows; I am not Emma Plows with Bipolar.’
Dry by Augusten Burroughs
Burroughs has written a plethora books about his bizarre childhood, his complicated and destructive relationship with his family, and his struggle with his sexuality. In Dry, Burroughs gets even more personal as he recounts his long struggle with alcoholism and depression. The book highlights many important truths about the ways that mental illness and substance abuse interact, though it may be triggering for those currently struggling with alcoholism. Burroughs takes us through his downward spiral, his time in rehab, and his many relapses, but throughout it all he reminds us that recovery is never permanent nor easy, but it is always worth it.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brush
Well known on the internet for her hilariously relatable comics, writer and illustrator Allie Brush pulls from her own experiences with depression and anxiety to create a graphic novel that is both funny and inspiring. Brush touches on the everyday inconveniences that come with mental illness that most people don’t know about. For instance, not being able to make phone calls because you’re too anxious or wearing the same clothes for days because you don’t have the energy to change. Brush also talks about relationships, job woes, and most importantly, her cat.