Peter McGo­ran se­lects 10 books that deal with men­tal health in an im­por­tant way.

Hot Press - - Critical Mass - By Peter McGo­ran

Whether it’s psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues like de­pres­sion or so­cial top­ics re­lat­ing to lone­li­ness and alien­ation, con­tem­po­rary writ­ers have of­fered fresh per­spec­tives on men­tal health. Here, we se­lect 10 books that deal with these sub­jects in a vi­tal and im­por­tant way. The Perks Of Be­ing A Wallflower STEPHEN CHOBSKY

In­tro­ver­sion, sex­u­al­ity, drug use, body im­age and sui­cide – Stephen Chobsky’s novel ticks more than a few boxes when it comes to ex­plor­ing ado­les­cent men­tal (ill-) health. Much like Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye – whose style it bor­rows heav­ily from – this book has be­come an es­sen­tial read for teenagers who feel them­selves to be on the “out­side”. Be­yond that, it’s also a dev­as­tat­ing de­pic­tion of child­hood trauma and cop­ing mech­a­nisms.

The Sub­tle Art of Not Giv­ing A Fuck MARK MAN­SON

Far be it from us to tell you not to fol­low the ad­vice of your cho­sen self-help book/blog, but if this pol­luted era of con­stant self­im­prove­ment, self-ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion and self­ies ever needed a solid kick up the arse, it got it with Mark Man­son’s 2016 book. Man­son uses his own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences – told through his wry stylis­tic prism – to cre­ate a “help­ful” guide to life, with­out feel­ing the need to feed you bull­shit. You won’t learn how to be a suc­cess­ful busi­ness per­son. You won’t achieve nir­vana. You may, how­ever, learn how not to give a fuck. And some­times, that’s a valu­able thing.

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing EIMEAR McBRIDE

As with the ti­tans of Ir­ish stream-of-con­scious­ness be­fore her, Eimear McBride’s de­but novel goes straight to the root of hu­man feel­ing. Ex­plor­ing the mind of a young woman who de­vel­ops trou­bled re­la­tion­ships with friends and sex­ual part­ners af­ter an abu­sive child­hood, McBride’s novel can be earth­shat­ter­ingly dif­fi­cult to read at times. How­ever, her stylis­tic ap­proach to cog­ni­tion and the pro­cess­ing of early child­hood mem­o­ries makes this one of the most im­por­tant books in the mod­ern Ir­ish canon.

The Girl On The Train PAULA HAWKINS

As well as be­ing an in­ter­na­tional best­seller and the ba­sis for a ol­lyÜood film] The Girl On The Train is one of the best mod­ern ex­am­ples of “the un­re­li­able nar­ra­tor” – and what this term can mean for men­tal health. The story fol­lows an al­co­holic di­vorcee who ru­mi­nates over her failed mar­riage and (mis)re­mem­bers how her drunken episodes led her to lash out at her hus­band. A pitch per­fect crime thriller, this is also an im­por­tant story about the ef­fects that “gaslight­ing” can have on the mind.

The Trick Is To Keep Breath­ing JAN­ICE GAL­LOWAY

One of the most frank de­pic­tions of clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, the de­but novel from Scot­tish writer Jan­ice Gal­loway has all the traits of a black com­edy, but with real, lin­ger­ing emo­tional im­pact through­out. It fo­cuses on

drama teacher Joy Stone, who has be­come se­verely de­pressed fol­low­ing the death of her mar­ried lover, and who em­barks on a fraught in­ter­nal jour­ney of re­cov­ery.

Own­ing It: Your Bull­shit-Free Guide To Liv­ing With Anx­i­ety CARO­LINE FO­RAN

Note the “Liv­ing with anx­i­ety” part and think about that for a sec­ond. We’re al­ways try­ing to be our bet­ter selves. We’re al­ways try­ing to per­fect our im­age. When some­thing “bad” hap­pens, we want to over­come it. We want to be rid of it. At the very least, we want to pre­tend that it’s not there. The thing we seem never to want to do is to ac­cept the idea of sim­ply liv­ing with it. But for Caro­line Fo­ran, suc­cess­ful Ir­ish jour­nal­ist, be­com­ing crip­pled with anx­i­ety – which she’d ig­nored all her life – led to her fi­nally ac­cept­ing her symp­toms and, through this, she learned to live with them. A pow­er­ful ac­count of self­ac­cep­tance.


The only novel writ­ten by Amer­i­can poet Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar is con­sis­tently ranked as one of the best nov­els of the 20th cen­tury, and one of the chief texts when it comes to un­der­stand­ing, and ex­plor­ing, men­tal health. Telling the story of Es­ther Green­wood (whom it’s widely ac­cepted is a fic­tion­alised ver­sion of Plath her­self), the novel ex­am­ines pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety and fe­male in­de­pen­dence as pow­er­fully as bipo­lar ill­ness and de­pres­sion. De­spite be­ing over 50 years old, its themes are as rel­e­vant now as they were in the early ’60s.


From a cul­tural and aca­demic per­spec­tive, this book changed the way thou­sands of peo­ple thought about mood. One of the fore­most au­thor­i­ties on manic-de­pres­sive ill­ness, Jamison also ex­pe­ri­enced it first­hand. ven as she was pur­su­ing a ca­reer in aca­demic medicine, she found her­self suc­cumb­ing to the same ex­hil­a­rat­ing highs and cat­a­strophic de­pres­sions that af­flicted many of her pa­tients.

Her disorder launched her into ru­inous spend­ing sprees, episodes of vi­o­lence, and an at­tempted sui­cide. In this book, Jamison ex­am­ines bipo­lar ill­ness from the dual per­spec­tives of the healer and the healed, re­veal­ing both its ter­rors and the cruel al­lure that at times prompted her to re­sist tak­ing med­i­ca­tion.

A Mon­ster Call PA­TRICK NESS

It would be wrong, I sus­pect, to have a list like this and not in­clude at least one fan­tasy É sci­ence‡ fic­tion novel. In many cases, the best dis­cus­sions around men­tal health come through al­le­gory. Such is the case in Pa­trick Ness’ heart­break­ing young fic­tion novel, A Mon­ster Calls. The novel tells the story of 13-year-old Conor O’Mal­ley, who pro­cesses the re­al­ity of his mother’s ter­mi­nal ill­ness with the help of a mon­ster, who vis­its him in the night to tell him sto­ries and al­low him to com­mu­ni­cate his grief and pain. The orig­i­nal idea came from writer Siob­han Dowd, who died of ter­mi­nal can­cer be­fore she could see the book com­pleted.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Com­pletely Fine GAIL HONEY­MAN

Win­ner of the 2018 Costa Book Award, Honey­man’s de­but novel is one of the most re­lat­able sto­ries about the ev­ery­day angst that so often at­tends the sim­ple act of try­ing to func­tion within so­ci­ety. Pro­tag­o­nist Eleanor Oliphant strug­gles with her so­cial skills and re­lies for her bal­ance on a highly reg­i­mented rou­tine – which is up­ended when she be­friends a work col­league and finds her­self thrust into a jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery. Honey­man’s deft tack­ling of de­pres­sion and alien­ation make this a pow­er­ful read.

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