Discover the best mental health books to help with life’s ups and downs with this list containing both nonfiction and fiction books about mental health.
Long considered a taboo topic, mental health has become a major topic of conversation in our day and age. We are finally coming to understand that your social, emotional, and psychological well-being is as important as your physical well-being.
Each and every one of us could use help learning to cope with life’s ups and downs. Mental health books will help you process your emotions, overcome trauma, and understand yourself better. By giving you a better understanding of anxiety, depression, stress, grief, and other mental health issues, books about mental health will help build your resilience to life’s challenges.
I’m a book expert, not a mental health professional. This list of mental health books is not medical advice. Rather, it’s the books about mental health that I’ve seen most oft-recommended. These are the books I’ve heard about on podcasts, seen on a therapist’s bookshelf, and heard mentioned by friends and family.
And being a book person, I couldn’t resist adding some fiction books about mental health to the list. I’ve found that reading novels is a great way to build empathy and awareness on a variety of issues, including mental health.
The Best Mental Health Books
As a therapist, Lori Gottlieb spent all day helping others with their problems. Yet, when her longtime boyfriend unexpectedly broke up with her, she found herself on the receiving end of therapy. Gottlieb’s memoir is top-notch with exceptional pacing, slyly weaving in explanations of therapy within the fascinating story of Gottlieb’s therapy sessions. You’ll quickly become attached to finding out what happens to her patients – a narcissistic tv producer, a dying newlywed, and a depressed senior citizen.
Bessel van der Kolk
One of the pioneers of PTSD and trauma research, Bessel van der Kolk knows that trauma is part of life. Yet trauma doesn’t just reside in our minds but actually changes the body and brain to change a person’s ability to feel pleasure, self-control, and trust. In one of the most recommended mental health books, Van der Kolk explores different treatments for trauma, offering ways to heal the body and mind to find safety.
Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey
Instead of asking What’s wrong with you?, we should be asking What happened to you? Oprah Winfrey teams up with neuroscientist Bruce D. Perry to discuss how understanding the trauma we faced at a young age can impact our behaviors now. By understanding our past, we can shift our viewpoint and see a clear path to healing.
We all have that ideal image of ourselves in our heads, but in The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown shows you how to let go of being perfect and accept who you are. Discussing her ten guide points to a whole-hearted life, Brown helps you embrace your inner flaws and find the courage to engage with the world unashamedly.
Shortly after World War II, Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American Dream, raising their twelve children in Colorado. Until one after another, six of their ten sons were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The tale of an American family who became the center of most of our current research on schizophrenia, Hidden Valley Road became one of the top nonfiction books of 2020.
On the outside, Stephanie Foo had a great life as a successful radio producer with a loving boyfriend, but behind closed doors, she had constant panic attacks. Eventually, Foo was diagnosed with complex PTSD, a little-understood condition caused by years of constant trauma. Her diagnosis sent her on a path to heal herself, researching complex PTSD and the roots of her and her family’s trauma.
Ove, a cantankerous old Swede, just wants to be left in peace so he can commit suicide, but his pesky neighbors keep getting in the way. This heartwarming tale that you’ll find downright hilarious will be a book club favorite for years to come. Highlighting our need for connection in the modern world, A Man Called Ove typifies how important it is to leave our digital worlds and make sure we check in on our neighbors.
Mental Health Books by Therapists and Psychologists
Scientists have proven that trauma reshapes the body and brain. In groundbreaking research, It Didn’t Start with You builds on books like The Body Keeps the Score to explain how trauma can be passed down through generations. Wolynn explains how inherited family trauma works, offers examples to understand how it has affected your own life, and provides exercises to help you learn to heal.
After hitting rock bottom, clinical psychologist Nicole LePera needed a more holistic approach to heal her body, mind, and soul. Known on Instagram as The Holistic Psychologist, LePera explains how past childhood trauma can lead to whole body dysfunction as adults and shares ways to learn to process negative emotions instead of falling into self-sabotaging cycles.
Nedra Glover Tawwab
Everyone knows they should set healthy boundaries. Yet, what are healthy boundaries and how do you set them without offending others? As a licensed counselor, Tawwab presents powerfully simple ways to set healthy boundaries in your life so you can express your needs clearly and without apology. More than just setting boundaries, Tawwab wants to help you understand the root of your problems that cause codependency, anxiety, and burnout so you can find peace.
If you have anxiety, you know the endless cycle of worry that feeds off itself to make you increasingly more anxious. Instead of avoiding what makes us anxious, which only ends up feeding our anxiety, psychotherapist Jennifer Shannon teaches small and simple ways to build resiliency to your anxiety. By breaking the cycle, you’ll be able to find the confidence to cope with your anxiety and find peace and resiliency even in anxious situations.
Clinical psychologist Julie Smith has gained a popular following on social media and her new mental health book provides skills to help you navigate common life challenges. Considered her “therapist’s toolkit,” every chapter covers a different everyday issue – such as grief, self-doubt, and stress – and provides practical solutions and advice.
Lindsay C. Gibson
When children grow up with parents who are emotionally immature, selfish or unavailable, the damage has lasting effect on them as they grow into adults. Not having your needs met as a child, having feelings dismissed, or being forced to take on adult responsibilities all cause a sense of neglect that lingers into adulthood. Gibson helps you understand how your parents’ behaviors have affected you and how to build positive new relationships in your own life.
Good Mental Health Books to Improve Your Life
Emily and Amelia Nagoski
Burnout has become a common problem for modern women as they futilely try to close the gap between what is expected of women and what it’s really like to be a woman. Sisters Emily and Amelia Nagoski shine a light on the obstacles and societal pressures facing women today and how to fight against them. Burnout uses science and anecdotes to explain the stress-cycle and provides worksheets and exercises to help you understand that you are enough and true wellness is within your reach.
As you help others, sometimes compassion and empathy can go too far and someone else’s problems become your own. Beattie explains how to break this cycle of codependency and helps you understand that you are powerless to change anyone but yourself. With life stories, exercises and self-tests, Codependent No More will help you set healthy boundaries and break unhealthy habits in your relationships.
Arthur C. Brooks
In one of the best mental health books after midlife, Atlantic columnist Arthur C. Brooks teaches how to find happiness in the second half of life. Brooks points out that the more successful you are, the sharper you notice the decline in your abilities as you age. Brooks gives a roadmap to refocusing priorities to achieve greater happiness later in life.
Known for her work researching vulnerability and shame, Brené Brown’s mental health books have enlightened millions of readers. In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes you on a journey through what it means to be human. Brown focuses on the 87 emotions that we feel, giving you tools and skills to navigate each emotion and understand how to give yourself a chance at more connection.
Everyone feels overstimulated on occasion, but for highly sensitive people, overstimulation is a constant feature of life. Psychologist Elaine Aron, a highly sensitive person herself, shows how you can identify if you are a highly sensitive person and teaches ways you can improve your daily interactions. As with most mental health books, The Highly Sensitive Person will help you understand yourself better so you can go on to live a richer life.
Mental health books discuss a variety of therapeutic methods and Sue Johnson uses Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples heal and nurture their relationship. Viewing the love relationship as an attachment bond, Hold Me Tight uses seven conversations to explain the cycles and behaviors couples tend to go through as they look to each other for emotional connection.
Inspiring Self-Help Books About Mental Health
While promoting Love Warrior, her memoir about recovering her marriage after her husband’s infidelity, Glennon Doyle fell in love with US soccer star Abby Wambach. Suddenly Doyle realized the life she had so carefully put together wasn’t the life she ever really wanted. Breaking free of social conditioning and a lifetime of people pleasing, Doyle inspires women to set boundaries and remember that true power comes from within and not from the expectations others put on them.
In an uncertain world, former First Lady Michelle Obama teaches strategies to help you find hope and balance. Instead of cliche affirmations, Obama digs deep into the conversation about difficult topics and finds practical wisdom to help readers cope. With insightful stories and usable tools, Obama hopes to empower readers to find connections in an ever-changing world.
Did you know that vulnerability can be one of your greatest strengths? Yet being vulnerable often feels uncomfortable and dangerous, making us want to do the complete opposite. Based on years of research, Brown argues that it is only by being vulnerable that we can find the courage to engage in meaningful connections, whether in our relationships, our communities, or our careers.
Inspired by her TED Talk, Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, empowers women to be brave enough to embrace imperfection. From a young age, girls are conditioned to be nice – to be kind, considerate, and not offend. Yet, what works well in elementary doesn’t translate into real-life, creating women who feel like they are never good enough. By explaining the societal pressures women face as they grow, Saujani inspires you to take a solid look at your own insecurities and realize that you are enough as you are.
Stunning Memoirs About Mental Health
Among the best memoirs about mental health is Jenny Lawson’s candid look at anxiety and depression. With wit and humor, Lawson relates her mental and physical health journey in a series of essays. In a world where we don’t talk about mental health enough, Lawson’s humorous anecdotes remind us that we aren’t the only ones with these struggles.
If you saw Meg Kissinger’s family in the suburbs of Chicago during the 1960s, you’d think they had a charmed life. With eight children and two loving parents, the Kissinger family lived large and played hard. However, behind closed doors the family struggled with mental illness that was never openly discussed: a mother heavily medicated for depression and anxiety, a manic father prone to violence, and siblings battling with depression and bipolar disorder, two of whom took their own lives. Opening up about her childhood, Meg Kissinger discusses how it led her to become a journalist investigating the broken mental health system in the United States.
Edith Eva Eger
When she was sixteen years old, Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. Forced to dance before Dr. Josef Mengele for her survival, Edith endured and witnessed terrible atrocities at the hands of the Nazis before being pulled from a pile of dead bodies when the camp was liberated in 1945. For years, Edith had flashbacks and unrelenting survivor’s guilt until she returned to visit Auschwitz decades later and finally learned to forgive herself.
Both vulnerable and hilarious, Jennette McCurdy’s tell-all memoir sends a poignant message about the dangers of child acting and life with a narcissistic mother. McCurdy brilliantly embraces her inner child by describing how desperately she wanted to please her mom by acting, even if it led to an eating disorder and a chaotic relationship with her family that she didn’t fully understand until attending therapy after her mother’s death.
In one of the most powerful memoirs of recent years, Jeannette Walls recounts the story of her tumultuous childhood. She opens the book with the account of how at 3 years old, she ends up hospitalized with severe burns after pouring scalding water on herself when cooking hot dogs for lunch. You meet her charming father Rex, equal measures brilliant and paranoid; her mother Rose, selfish and depressed; and her three siblings, trying their best just to survive.
In her poignant memoir, Gay focuses on her weight and self-image. After being raped as a child, Gay used food and an overweight body as a shield. Speaking with candor on the realities of being obese in America and the conflict between self-love and self-care, Gay’s opinions are raw, honest, and complicated.
Gripping Novels About Mental Health
In the Midnight Library, there are two books – one book for the life you’ve lived and one for the one you could have lived. After attempting suicide, Nora Seed finds herself there. Now she must decide which book to choose from. What if she had made different choices? Would her life have been any better? All of us have regrets, and by allowing Nora the possibility to redo her life, Haig does a brilliant job showing how we can never predict the outcomes of our choices. A thoroughly enjoyable read that intimately talks about the pain depression and second-guessing has on life.
Even though Maggie and her husband have been together since they were teens, they find themselves divorcing less than two years after their wedding. Although she pretends everything is fine, Maggie is a hot mess. With observant sarcasm, Heisey narrates Maggie’s self-destruction thoughts and cringeworthy choices as she painfully learns to take care of herself.
In one of the most famous classic books about mental health, Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical work shows protagonist Esther Greenwood’s mental breakdown. Starting a summer internship in New York City, Esther struggles to feel joy or excitement like her colleagues. When she doesn’t get an academic job after her internship, Esther feels lost, depressed, and suicidal. After entering an asylum, Esther eventually recovers and finds a new perspective on life.
Kate Elizabeth Russell
Russell’s dark debut novel explores the relationship between a naive young girl and her manipulative teacher. As a fifteen-year-old, Vanessa began an affair with her 42-year-old English teacher. Now almost two decades later, when allegations arise against Mr. Strane, Vanessa must confront the reality of her past and reassess her first love. In the post #Metoo era, Russell raises questions about such pressing topics as consent and victimhood.
Adelaide’s dreamy life in London is made even better when she falls hard for Rory. He might not be the perfect boyfriend, but she’s fallen so hard for him that he lights up her world. When Rory’s ex-girlfriend dies, Adelaide does all she can to hold him together. However, she worries she is losing herself in the process. Of recent books about mental health, Adelaide is a powerful debut exploring toxic relationships, grief, and trauma.
Professional dancer Anna Roux is plagued with uncertainties. In an attempt to take control, she starts controlling her eating and eventually weighs only 88 pounds. Admitted to a treatment facility for her anorexia, Anna meets other brave women fighting their own battles with eating disorders. Once you get past the unusual formatting, the raw emotion of The Girls at 17 Swann Street draws you in with peeks into Anna’s thoughts throughout her struggle with her mental illness.
Fiction Books About Mental Health: Family Dramas
In her fifth year studying neuroscience at Stanford, Gifty is determined to find the cause of suffering, studying depression and addiction in mice. The further she dives into the science, the more her childhood faith seems to call to her. Can faith or science alleviate the suffering she sees in her family of Ghanaian immigrants struggling with depression, addiction, and grief?
If you want uplifting books about mental health, you’ve found the perfect choice in socially awkward Eleanor Oliphant. She has the habit of saying exactly what she thinks and much prefers to spend her weekends at home talking on the phone to her mother. When Eleanor and her slovenly coworker Raymond help an elderly gentleman after a fall, the three become friends and Eleanor learns that opening up isn’t always a bad thing.
After a childhood of being ignored by his family, William Waters finds refuge playing basketball in college. When William meets Julia Padavano, a lively girl extremely close to her parents and three sisters, he quickly becomes a part of the close-knit Padavano family. Although cracks start to appear in the family, William never imagined he’d be the wedge to drive them apart. A homage to Little Women, Hello Beautiful gorgeously describes family and sisterhood, mental health, and forgiveness, in such a way that you will never forget this story.
When she marries a charming entrepreneur and moves to the suburbs, Yara thinks she has finally escaped her conservative Palestinian upbringing. Yet even her dream job with her dream family doesn’t seem to fulfill Yara. Yet as Yara’s world begins to implode, she realizes that the upbringing that she thought she left behind has lasting consequences for her and her daughters. Discussing life as an immigrant, gender roles, and multi-generational trauma, Evil Eye would be an excellent choice for book club books about mental health.
Mary Beth Keane
Though their children Kate and Peter become the best of friends, Francis and his wife have learned to keep their distance from Brian’s wife due to her precarious mental health. When tragedy strikes between the two families, Brian’s family moves away in shame. But when Kate and Peter fall in love, the two families must learn to confront the tragedy that ties them together. A story of love and forgiveness, Ask Again, Yes serves up the perfect blend of family drama and character study to make it a great novel about mental health to read.
Former poet laureate Dorothy Moy has always channeled her dissociative episodes and mental health into her work. When her daughter starts showing similar behaviors and remembering items from the lives of past ancestors, Dorothy worries she’ll lose custody. So she undergoes an experimental treatment to alleviate inherited trauma, becoming intimately connected with the past generations of women in her family.
Mental Health Books for Teens
John Green’s young adult book about mental health follows sixteen-year-old Aza as she investigates the mystery of a fugitive billionaire. Hoping to earn the $100,000 reward, Aza and her best friend Daisy befriend his son Davis hoping to find answers. John Green eloquently delves into Aza’s mental health issues with severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which makes this novel especially significant for teenagers today.
In Chicago, the Reyes family has two daughters: Olga, the perfect obedient Mexican daughter, and Julia, a headstrong rebellious teenager. When Olga dies in a tragic bus accident, Julia blames herself and fights against the weight of the parental and cultural expectations she feels. When Julia starts looking into Olga’s life, she begins to truly understand that no one is perfect.
Enrolling in Windward Academy as a senior, brilliant Shelbi has avoided getting close to anyone at her new school. When she sees Andy Criddle, the politician’s son running from addiction and grief, she can relate. Soon sparks fly between Shelbi and Andy. But the last time Shelbi opened up about her bipolar disorder, she was horribly bullied. Will things be different or will Andy’s own trauma collide with hers in devastating ways?
In this classic twist on the opposites attract theme, teenagers Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the school’s bell tower. Finch is constantly contemplating suicide while Violet is just counting the days until graduation, hoping to escape her small town and the grief from her sister’s death. When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the school’s six-story bell tower, it’s hard to tell who saved whom. Yet as Violet’s world begins to grow, Finch’s begins to shrink even more.
In the months after the US declares war on Iraq, an American Muslim teenage girl and her family must navigate identity, friendship, love, and heartache. Shadi has enough going on to have to deal with bigotry, too. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has disappeared. She tries to keep it all inside, but when her heart is also broken, she finally explodes.
In one of the most popular young adult mental health books, Charlie narrates his struggles to adapt to his first year in high school in a series of letters. After the suicide of his best friend from middle school and the death of his beloved aunt, Charlie feels completely lost until he befriends two seniors. With the help of Patrick and Sam, Charlie navigates a difficult year, hitting on the tough topics of abuse and mental health.
Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda finds herself an outcast starting her first day as a freshman at Merryweather High. No one wants to speak to her after she called the cops on the big end-of-summer party. The further isolated Melinda becomes, the more she finds solace in her art class. Through her art project, Melinda begins to find her voice again and dares to speak up about the upperclassman who raped her at that summer party.
What Mental Health Books Would You Recommend?
Have you found any mental health books beneficial? What books about mental health would you add to the list? As always, let me know in the comments!
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