On World Mental Health Day, I want to tip my hat to those who have written so movingly about their own experiences with mental health challenges that go far beyond the occasional bout of the blues. In sharing their troubles and traumas and their way back, they offer dignity to all those who have been trying to deal with more than anyone ever should have to face, and insight to everyone else who otherwise would have even less of an idea of what it means to walk in their shoes.

Leading up to this day, I’ve been requesting and searching for recommendations of books by people who write candidly, wisely, and engagingly about their own experiences. The best list I’ve found is The 20 Greatest Memoirs of Mental Illness. I’d love to credit the author but it is an unsigned blog post. You can follow the link to see all 20 recommendations. Below, I’m highlighting four of them. I’ve listed Jamison’s first, because of her dual role both as someone who has experienced mental illness and as a mental health professional. You may recognize some of the titles from their movie versions.

An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison: As both a clinical psychologist and bipolar patient, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison speaks about mental illness from a very unique perspective. She has written extensively about her tumultuous experiences in various books, but none more personal and evocative as An Unquiet Mind. Ultimately, Jamison concludes that despite the horrors of suicide and searching for a valid treatment option, she feels her experiences made her a better person.

Darkness Visible by William Styron: After a lifetime of alcohol abuse and sedatives, the celebrated author of Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner discovered he suffered from depression. Such a revelation, popping up in his 60s, guided him down a path of self-analysis and forced him to analyze of his experiences up to that point. Comparing and contrasting his melancholy with that of other famous figures who struggled with depression brings peace and reflection.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen: In this famous memoir of mental illness, author Susanna Kaysen chronicles her stint in a psychiatric hospital at age 18. She received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, a condition largely overlooked and misunderstood by the American mainstream, and relates all the intimate details back to readers. Not only does Kaysen’s autobiography shed light on BPD’s many nuances and symptoms, she also critiques the mental health care system.

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel: Major depressive disorder descended upon writer Elizabeth Wurtzel during her college and young professional days, after a lifetime of loneliness and longing for an absent father. Like many individuals suffering from this agonizingly common condition, she turned towards substance abuse and even a suicide attempt as a means of self-medicating. But a combination of steel will and a determined doctor set Wurtzel back on the difficult road to recovery.”

The Netwellness group offers a list, too. One of the most recognizable items on it is A Beautiful Mind. That’s a bit different from the four listed above because the book version is a biography rather than an autobiography or memoir.

A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar
A book about Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, who suffered from schizophrenia. A movie by the same name was also released in 2001.”

Road photo available from Shutterstock