Books about mental health on a colourful background.

Image credit: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

By now, the message has rung loudly across social media and newspapers, throughout HR departments and government campaigns: our mental health is important. Just as we take care of our bodies with physical exercise and nutrition, our mental well-being must be looked after, too.

For many, though, knowing where to start can be a challenge. Even defining the term ‘mental health’ can be difficult, as today it applies to a broad range of conditions, disorders, and issues, from stress, anxiety and depression to obsessive-compulsive disorder and beyond. With that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of books that provide the language and clarity necessary to cope, as well as some methods to provide solace in moments of strife.

First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety by Sarah Wilson (2017)

What if we could view anxiety not as a problem, but as something good – maybe even something beautiful? This is the question at the centre of Sarah Wilson’s moving 2017 book, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Story About Anxiety. Having lived through a number of anxiety’s worse symptoms – OCD, bipolar, and a number of suicide attempts – Wilson set off on a seven-year journey around the world to find the answer. The resulting book is a big-hearted read for anyone who has anxiety or loves someone who does.

F**K, I Think I’m Dying: How I Learned to Live With Panic by Claire Eastham (2021)

Panic attacks are difficult, but there’s a way forward – take it from Claire Eastham, who says she has had at least “371 panic attacks (and counting)” over the past seven years. In this warm, insightful, and often humorous guide to living with panic attacks, author and blogger Eastham weaves her experiences with panic attacks between interviews with scientists, professors, dieticians, psychologists and other panic attack sufferers to help explain why panic attacks happen – and how to manage them.

A Cure for Darkness: The Story of Depression and How We Treat It by Alex Riley (2021)

After years of experiencing depression himself – during which was prescribed anti-depressants and underwent therapy – science writer Alex Riley began to question the effectiveness of the available treatments for what has become “one of the world’s most prevalent disorders”. In A Cure for Darkness, Riley tells his own story before delving into centuries of science and treatments, illuminating past and present methods, as well as new hopes, for the future of mental health.

The Awakened Brain: The Psychology of Spirituality and Our Search for Meaning by Lisa Miller (2021)

Too often, we draw a hard line between science and spirituality, but in this paradigm-shifting book, neuroscientist and author Lisa Miller explores the various benefits of spirituality – walking through nature, meditating, praying – on the human brain, drawing on her years of research and experience to show our spiritual lives can positively transform our mental health. Not only does Miller show how spirituality can lessen the likelihood of depression or substance abuse – she also makes startling discoveries about the scientific nature of spirituality, and how it relates to our mental health.

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) by Philippa Perry (2019)

Don’t let the lengthy title fool you: psychotherapist Philippa Perry’s breakthrough 2019 book became a Sunday Time bestseller on the back of its sage, indispensable advice on how to manage and maintain relationships. In clear and judgement-free prose, Perry illuminates the ways that our upbringings shape us, how we reflect that in our everyday relationships, and how that continues to shape our relationships and mental well-being. This is an essential guide to improving the most vital relationships in your life – and your own happiness, too.

Five Minute Therapy by Sarah Crosby (2020)

With a healthy dose of empathy and directness, Sarah Crosby’s Five Minute Therapy finds the author and psychotherapist combining her charming illustrations with useful, careful messages that provide bits of solace throughout the day. Though the portions are small, the impact is large: here, Crosby touches on attachment, boundaries, self-talk, emotional triggers and reparenting with psychological expertise and guidance, making Five Minute Therapy an ideal mental health companion for those days where time is of the essence.

When It Is Darkest: Why People Die by Suicide and What We Can Do to Prevent It by Rory O’Connor (2021)

One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. Yet despite this devastation, suicide is still poorly understood – and difficult to talk about. In his new book, When It Is Darkest, Professor Rory O’Connor aims to change this. Addressing the complex reasons behind suicide and what we can do to prevent it, the book provides invaluable advice for anyone trying to help someone vulnerable. For anyone struggling with the tragedy of suicide, When It Is Darkest will help you find strength in the darkest of places.

Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen (2021)

A year before this book was published, author Anne Helen Petersen wrote an essay about how – and more importantly, why, exploring factors from sociological and economic – a whole generation of people was feeling overworked and too stressed to function. So universal was her concept of ‘burnout’ that the piece went viral and inspired this book-length meditation on the ways that the modern era is perfectly suited to challenge our work-life balance – and our mental health, too. Reading it is a balm.

Heavy Light: A Journey Through Madness, Mania & Healing by Horatio Clare (2021)

An account of a lifetime of mental highs and depressive lows, Horatio Clare’s memoir Heavy Light, released earlier this year, is the story of his journey through mania, psychosis and treatment, and onwards to release, recovery and healing. Both a tribute to those who looked after him and an investigation into how we understand and treat acute crises of mental health, this extraordinary memoir asks urgent questions and illuminates a fundamental part of human experience.

Aroha by Dr Hinemoa Elder (2020)

Subtitled Maori wisdom for a contented life lived in harmony with our planet, this book from Maori psychiatrist Hinemoa Elder shares 52 life lessons – yes, one for every week of the year – that will help readers embrace a way of thinking that better aligns our movement with that of the world around us. For Elder, contentment is derived from kindness – for ourselves, our neighbours and all humanity. “When we stand alone, we are vulnerable,” she says, “but together we are unbreakable.”

The To-Do List and Other Debacles by Amy Jones (2019)

In her 2019 memoir, dubbed “as relatable as it is riotous”, author Amy Jones recounts episodes from her young life – from crying in office toilets to unravelling at a hen do – in service of opening up a dialogue about the emotional hurdles faced in society by young women. A rare read that’s as funny as it is moving, The To-Do List is, in Marian Keyes’ words, a “perfect gateway into a discussion on mental health.”

A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi (2020)

While it’s not specifically a book about mental health, Mohsin Zaidi’s poignant 2020 memoir wrestles with a number of themes and issues related to it. A Dutiful Boy tells Mohsin’s story of growing up gay in a Muslim household, and the tensions and conflicts that arise when who you are and where you come from abut. Beautifully told and ultimately redemptive, A Dutiful Boy shines a light forward for anyone fighting to find who it is they want to be.

Losing Our Minds: What Mental Illness Really Is – And What It Isn’t by Lucy Foulkes (2021)

As discussion about mental health proliferates, so, argues psychologist Lucy Foulkes, must our care around the language we use around it. In her sensitive and deliberate book, Foulkes contends with the alleged ‘mental health crisis’ we’re currently facing and answers questions about whether the new generation is more susceptible to mental health disorders, or if the very notion of a mental health crisis is making things worse. For anyone seeking nuance on the matter of distinguishing between ‘normal’ suffering and actual illness, Losing Our Minds is the perfect place to start.

The Confidence Solution: Seven Steps to Confidence by Chloe Brotheridge (2021)

In The Confidence Solution, esteemed clinical hypnotherapist and anxiety expert Chloe Brotheridge challenges the notion that confidence is something one is born with; confidence, she says, can be built up, and here she shows readers how. Using her experience with clients who suffer from low self-worth and anxiety, Brotheridge shows how to improve confidence by confronting behaviours like people-pleasing and establishing new habits, from thinking positively to setting personal boundaries – all great pathways to better mental health.

It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (and other lies) by Scarlett Curtis (2019)

It's Not OK to Feel Blue is the second compendium of personal essays curated by Feminists Don't Wear Pink author Scarlett Curtis. In it, she asks 60 famous faces from the world of TV, music, politics and journalism to open up about their mental health. The result is a range of stories that are as powerful and moving as they are – at times – funny, from Emilia Clarke’s thoughts on body image to a poem about depression by Sam Smith. The overwhelming message this book delivers is that no matter your situation, mental health can affect anyone. 

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

Image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

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