Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, reading transports us into other worlds and opens our eyes to the experiences of others. It can expand our sense of empathy as well as make us realize that we’re not alone.
But reading is not just a way to unwind and flex our imaginations. For some of us, books were the first places we saw ourselves represented when it comes to depictions of mental health.
Ever since I was a child, reading helped me deal with my pain, anxiety, and nervous tics. When I read, I could sit still. I wouldn’t fixate on my pain or stress. While reading has always been (and probably always will be) my favorite thing to do, it was more than just a hobby for me; it was a way to cope. As author Kate DiCamillo said, “Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.”
Reading was—and still is—truly a gift to me. When I read about characters who were stressed, had anxiety or panic attacks, or suffered from trauma, I felt less alone. As I grew older, I began to read essays and memoirs, and I realized that these things weren’t simply fiction and that there were words—and also help—for what I felt.
“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered as a gift.”
— Kate DiCamillo
One of the greatest feelings in the world is recommending a book to someone you care about, knowing that they’re going to love it. So we asked our community of therapists at MyWellbeing as well as our community on Instagram about their favorite books about mental health. Answers ranged from bestselling nonfiction from authors like Gretchen Rubin and Sarah Knight, to fiction like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, to simply “coloring books!” (which we totally agree with).
“Facing Codependence is the gold standard for understanding and looking at one's own codependent traits,” said Birch Cooper, a New York City therapist and MyWellbeing community member. “When we put the needs, feelings, and desires of others ahead of our own in an unchecked or unbalanced way, it can be useful to look into codependence. Resentment, feeling a loss of identity, or difficulty expressing your opinion and feelings in relationships is further proof that it is time to explore the topic.”
This book, by the author of the iconic Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, was a favorite from our community on Instagram and recommended by our CEO, Alyssa Petersel. It’s a “beautiful, relatable read on how therapy changes lives,” said Alyssa. Drawing from decades of clinical practice, Pipher shares what she has learned in her clinical practice, delivered through a mix of observation and storytelling.
This book is “an excellent guide for raising empowered children,” said Birch. “The book can be useful to those with children, who are expecting, who are considering children, or even those who do not have children, but talk or offer guidance regularly to people who do.” It empowers parents to create healthy boundaries and raise happy kids with confidence.
“More than one client with ADHD has commented that they felt this book was written for them!” said Birch. “With psychoeducation and behavioral and cognitive interventions, The Smart But Scattered Guide to Success has helped several of my clients reduce the impact ADHD has on their professional and personal lives. Smart but Scattered is now a full series of books,” he added. “The Guide for Success is intended for adults, although some prefer the original book that was designed for parents of children with ADHD.”
The memoir, from the author of the New York Times bestseller Love Warrior, was also a favorite from our community on Instagram. “It is such an impactful look at our society’s ‘taming’ of women and powerful inspiration to free ourselves, trust ourselves, and be who we are meant to be,” said Julie Iannone Pastro, a New York City therapist and MyWellbeing community member.
Recently, I read a great roundup of memoirs about mental health written by people of color by Sophia Lefevre over at BookRiot. With titles like The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang and I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying by Bassey Ikpi, the list covers a range of experiences and conditions including schizoaffective disorder, depression, anxiety and bipolar II, and post-traumatic stress disorder. I can’t wait to check them all out.
We’re huge fans of meditation at MyWellbeing (we even developed a quiz that will help you find out which type of meditation practice might be most beneficial to you).
What Now? is “a really digestible, authentic, relatable read about meditation, how to get started, and how it can benefit you in your day to day,” said Alyssa. Shy provides mindfulness practices specifically for twentysomethings and tackles subjects like love, social media, and justice.
“I learned about Emily's form of meditation from her online course and after practicing it, noticed that it has a profound healing and grounding effect and that it is in some ways easier and more effective than general mindfulness meditation,” said Yechiel Benedikt, a New York City therapist and MyWellbeing community member. Stress Less, Accomplish More describes the Ziva Technique, which combines mindfulness, meditation, and manifesting, and includes neuroscience, philosophy, guided visualizations, and more.
This book is “such an interesting read about how our body holds trauma, and it's not all in our head, backed by real science for all of the doubters and haters out there,” said Alyssa. With decades of experience in research and clinical practice, van der Kolk shows how trauma reshapes the brain and body—and describes treatment that activates the brain’s natural neuroplasticity and allows patients to “know what you know and feel what you feel.”
This is an “incredible book about how you may be carrying trauma from ancestors and lives before yours. It’s an especially important read for people who feel as though something is just OFF, but erie patterns keep circling around that they can't pinpoint to their own individual lives,” said Alyssa.
Our Instagram community had plenty of other recommendations, including Loving What Is by Byron Katie, Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat, The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom, and The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner.
No matter what genre, curling up with a good book about mental health can provide support and broaden your horizons. And if you can’t prioritize a full-length book right now, that’s okay too! From articles, to podcasts, to talking to a friend, family member, or therapist, to simply taking time for yourself, there are plenty of ways you can support yourself on your own mental health journey—whatever works for you is best! For snack-sized bites of reading goodness about topics like meditation, trauma, and therapy in general, check out the MyWellbeing blog.
Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.