Mental Health Reads

As a licensed social worker and lifelong book worm, books on mental health have a special place in my heart. My relatively brief experience in social work is largely based in substance use and severe mental illness (schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and others), with the recent shift to family therapy with at-risk youth. Even in my time off, I’m always interested in brushing up on different works relevant to my field, both old and new. I thought I would spotlight some staples in my collection here, and will continue to post about others I’ve enjoyed as I come across them!

THE GREAT PRETENDER by Susannah Cahalan | Grand Central Publishing, November 2019

In 1973, a charismatic doctor convinced eight healthy people to commit themselves to mental hospitals. They had to prove their sanity to be set free. Their undercover mission would change our understanding of madness forever.”

Susannah Cahalan, The Great Pretender

If you’re a fan of the Stanford Prison Experiment and are looking for a fascinating, well-developed and researched non-fiction, I highly recommend The Great Pretender. Cahalan, who has her own long-winded experience with mental health treatment, takes a deep dive into the horrific past of psychiatric treatment in the 1970’s and prior. The Great Pretender reminds us that although we have come a long way in mental health and psychiatric treatment, we still have a long road ahead of us. *Note; this work does not touch on the complete lack of access to mental health care for the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities during this era, which continues to be an area in need of great improvement to this day. I have yet to come across a work on this topic, please feel free to send me your recommendations!


BEAUTIFUL BOY: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff |Houghton Mifflin Publishing, February 2008

Caring about an addict is as complex and fraught and debilitating as addiction itself.”

David Sheff, Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy is an important read for myself and many others who have lived the experience of a loved one battling addiction. A harrowing, breathtaking, and candid memoir about a father and his love for his beautiful boy, un-breaking, even in the darkest moments. David and Nic’s story is one that has stuck with me for a while, opening up the conversation about family, parenting, and addiction as an illness, a disease. This memoir is also an important reminder of the force behind love, family, and human connection, and its ability to pull us from the darkest depths when we most need it to.


TWEAK: Growing Up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff | Atheneum Publishing, January 2009

And though I have done many shameful things, I am not ashamed of who I am. I am not ashamed of who I am because I know who I am. I have tried to rip myself open and expose everything inside- accepting my weaknesses and strengths- not trying to be anyone else. ‘Cause that never works, does it?”

Nic Sheff, Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines

This is a memoir that I have yet to read, but it is a follow up to Beautiful Boy told from Nic’s perspective, who spent a large part of his childhood into adulthood addicted to methamphetamines.


THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath | Heinemann, January 1963

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar is a classic story about a woman and her struggle with mental health, ultimately mirroring Plath’s own battles. From Goodreads; “The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that Esther’s insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies.” This is a dark, vulnerable look into the realities of declining mental health, especially in a time when psychiatric treatment relied heavily on electroshock therapy and experimental drugs.


A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara | Anchor Books, March 2015

Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”

Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

At the time of this post, A Little Life is my current read. I don’t know how else to describe this book about 4 friends in New York, other than it is a massive heartbreak, and a beautiful story of friendship. It is an all too real look into the trauma of childhood sexual abuse and its resulting path of destruction in life, and the importance of love without boundaries, even if it is not able to heal us. Review coming soon.

Please feel free to send me your mental health related book recommendations! Happy reading, take care of yourselves, and SSDGM!

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