7 illuminating memoirs that help demystify mental illness

7 illuminating memoirs that help demystify mental illness

In Reading Lists by Sonia Gonzalez

7 illuminating memoirs that help demystify mental illness

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that approximately one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness. The statistics are staggering. Yet, for the people who live with or love someone with a psychiatric disorder, statistics alone may feel clinical and impersonal. Living with mental illness is a layered human experience; one that is often misunderstood and misrepresented. These illuminating memoirs take you beyond the surface of mental illness, offering nuanced perspective and insight into the everyday struggles of living with or loving someone with mental illness.

Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz

This searing memoir tackles many themes including Díaz’s unstable childhood due, in large part, to her mother’s mental illness. Her bare-knuckled, nonlinear approach, as well as her use of varied writing styles and points of view — her second-person narrative of a particularly harrowing experience will leave you breathless — places readers squarely in the trenches with her. 

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Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Lawson recounts her struggles with mental illness with vulnerability, honesty, and her trademark humor. She addresses stereotypes and stigmas surrounding mental health while sharing personal experiences, detailing different therapies and treatments, as well as everyday moments with disarming candor. Equal parts daunting and cheerful, Lawson shows there can be pure joy amid the chaos and darkness. You may find yourself laughing and crying at the same time. 

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In this Scrid Original, comedian and actor Gethard shares the insight he’s gained from his lifelong battle with mental illness and his newer experience of being a father. He addresses heavy topics, ranging from stigmas to suicide, with his particular brand of humor coupled with sobering acumen: “Depression is the gun. But it’s the loneliness that’s the bullet.” In this relatively quick read (or listen), Gethard reminds us that “mental illness does not equal mental weakness.”

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She's Not Herself by Linda Appleman Shapiro

This affecting memoir follows Shapiro as she navigates a childhood profoundly impacted by her mentally ill mother. It addresses generational trauma and the stigmas that reinforce damaging silence. With wisdom, hindsight, and expertise as a behavioral psychotherapist, Shapiro shares her experience, inspiring resilience, and ultimately, her path to healing.

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Manic by Terri Cheney

Cheney aims to take us directly into her experience living with bipolar (also known as manic depression), declaring “I wanted this book to mirror the disease, to give the reader a visceral experience.” To that end, she arranges her work in a series of explosive episodes, rather than a linear recounting of events, illustrating how unpredictable and confusing this illness can be, as well as the velocity with which it moves.

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Mind Without a Home by Kristina Morgan

Arranged as a series of vignettes, Morgan’s memoir delivers a haunting and deeply intimate portrayal of her lifelong struggle with mental illness. The journal-like entries convey real-time emotions as well as thoughtful hindsight perspective as she moves from adolescence to adulthood, introduces readers to her family, and expertly captures the jagged, unpredictable nature of schizophrenia.

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Sawyer’s engrossing memoir opens at a conference in 2004, where she is an invited speaker. Before dozens of mental health professionals, she — a practicing psychologist — shares that four decades earlier, she had been an adolescent patient at the very hospital in which they were all gathered. She reveals the harrowing experience of being institutionalized, misdiagnosed, and given damaging electroshock treatments before eventually being transferred with a dismissive assessment of “unimproved.” Her memoir continues in captivating detail, as Sawyer recounts her battle with mental illness and her journey to wellness, while offering insight on the perils of misinformed, and often careless, psychiatric care. 

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For more reading recommendations on mental health, check out the Take Care of Your Mental Health list from our Scribd editors.

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About the Author: Sonia Gonzalez

Sonia Gonzalez holds a B.A. in English Literature from Lehman College, CUNY, and is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared on various parenting and lifestyle websites and in New York Magazine’s 2018 Best of New York series. She lives in New York and when she's not reading or writing, she's spending time with her husband and three children and their very spirited dog. 

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