Plath's The Bell Jar is frequently listed as a great book for depicting mental illness, but her journals capture the struggle in a uniquely raw, day-to-day fashion. It's mesmerizing— and shaking— to see Sylvia deconstructing and tackling her mental illness in such a minute way, managing depression in different ways throughout the stages of her life. You get to see her unfiltered train of thought as a hopeless romantic in college with big dreams and a tough spirit, then as a worn out wife and mother afflicted with paranoia and schizophrenia in her final years.
Those who struggle with mental health may feel a sense of solidarity from reading the journals, numerous moments of, "Oh, sometimes I feel like that too!" And what's better than feeling less alone?
"Hope, careers – writing is too much for me: I don't want a job until I am happy with writing – yet feel desperate to get a job – to fill myself up with some external reality where people accept phone bills, meat-getting, babies, marriage, as part of the purpose to the universe." -Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals
Just like with Plath, Ned Vizzini is another author whose personal struggle and eventual defeat to mental illness can't help but play in your head as you read their work. Vizzini wrote It's Kind of A Funny Story, his second and last novel, in only two weeks after he spent a month committed to the mental ward of a hospital. The YA adult novel has universal appeal, depicting a teen boy just beginning to develop depression and who is soaked in a pool of confusion and despair over how to fix it and, more importantly, how could he –someone with such a seemingly "perfect life"–, be depressed? It's a question often asked. And for those looking for a smile: unlike many of the other books in this list, this one ends on an optimistic note.
"It's so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That's above and beyond everything else, and it's not a mental complaint-it's a physical thing, like it's physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don't come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people's words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet." -Ned Vizzini, It's Kind Of A Funny Story
The Glass Castle is a memoir depicting the author's life growing up with two mentally ill parents. The book is full of charm and heartbreak. Walls's family lives a hippie lifestyle traveling from place to place, sometimes even spending their nights sleeping in the desert. The book is perfect for anyone who might have grown up with mental illness in their family, as Walls veers away from demonizing her parents, choosing instead to portray both the beauty and the flaws of her parents' idiosyncrasies.
"Mom always said people worried too much about their children. Suffering when you're young is good for you, she said. It immunized your body and your soul, and that was why she ignored us kids when we cried. Fussing over children who cry only encouraged them, she told us. That's positive reinforcement for negative behavior."-Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle
This book deals with something that, for some, is incredibly tolling on their mental health: coming out. Nick Burd paints a YA book filled with heartbreak, longing, and identity formation. One powerful moment comes early in the book when the character lays in bed at night, whispering "I'm gay" to inanimate objects to practice how the phrase feels coming off his lips. The book also tackles an oh-too-familiar sensation of feeling cramped by the place that you've come from. That the sterility and dreamlessness of suburbia can be extremely toxic for someone's mental health, an asphyxiation ofn their sense of hope.
"I stopped wanting to float away from my life, because in the end my life was all I had. I'd walk the Fairmont campus and look up to the sky and I wouldn't see myself drifting off like some lost balloon. Instead I saw the size of the world and found comfort in its hugeness. I'd think back to those times when I felt like everything was closing in on me, those times when I thought I was stuck, and I realized that I was wrong. There is always hope. The world is vast and meant for wandering. There is always somewhere else to go."- Nick Burd, The Vast Fields of Ordinary
This contemporary adult novel by acclaimed author Louise Erdrich focuses on a 13-year-old who lives on a Native American reservation and his family's struggle with PTSD after his mother's brutal rape by an outsider. The novel dives into dark, honest territory, Joe's mother locking herself up in the house for weeks and becoming a shell of herself. But there's also a bittersweet beauty lodged in the tragedyof the novel. Joe goes through an intense coming of age process and is shoved abruptly into adulthood.
"And here was the thing I didn't understand then but do now—the loneliness. I was right, in that there was just the three of us. Or the two of us. Nobody else, not Clemence, not even my mother herself, cared as much as we did about my mother. Nobody else thought night and day of her. Nobody else knew what was happening to her. Nobody else was as desperate as the two of us, my father and I, to get our life back. To return to the Before." - Louise Erdrich, The Round House
If you're struggling with mental health, you should never feel alone. So come back to this list next time you're feeling blue.