A mental health reading list

(Apologies for the wonky line breaks. Gotta say, WordPress is looking better and better. Hear that, Blogger?)

I'm convinced that in a past life I was a neuropsychologist.

I like brains. I think they're cool.

I like knowing how brains work (the little we know, anyway). And, even more fascinating, I like knowing what happens when they don't work quite right—how our brains affect our behaviour and our overall health for good or for ill. (And yes, there's a whole body of work out there that's "pop-ified" neurology, boiling down our complex brains into digestible little chapters. I don't care. It's fascinating too.) 

I also have a roiling circle of friends, creative types all, which puts me in almost-constant contact with the more extreme expressions both of mental ability and disability. 

So it's no surprise that I get really worked up about issues surrounding mental health—like why, for example, we insist on calling it "mental" health, as though the brain isn't part of our physical body, as though our brain doesn't affect our body and vice versa. 

You see, Descarteshe of the "I think, therefore I am" philosophydid us an enormous disservice by artificially splitting the brain and the body into separate entities, setting in place assumptions about mental health (there's that phrase again) that have resulted in generations of ill people hearing poisonous, toxic things like "It's all in your head," and "You could deal with it if you just got out of bed."

If you've ever felt these words cross your lips, you need to educate yourself, because that kind of attitude belongs to the last century. Seriously.

OK, rant over. 

I've been reading a lot about psychology lately, mostly as an effort to understand the last couple of years, why other people act the way they do, why I act in ways that, sometimes, leave me baffled.

I like to think I've managed to achieve at least a measure of compassion, if not wisdom, with my wheelings through books on ADD, depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide. If you have someone in your life who's dealing with this stuff--or if you've been dealing with it yourself--you might find some of these books helpful. I did.

The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon. This is a classic book about depression. It's long, but it's a great mixture of personal anecdote (we're suckers for stories, we are) and extensive research. It's incredibly accessible, and well worth reading for anyone who has the mental wherewithal to tackle it.

Night Falls Fast and An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison. Jamison, a professor at Johns Hopkins, is a clinical psychologist specializing in bipolar disorder. Night Falls Fast is her elegant, poignant book about suicide, and An Unquiet Mind is her personal memoir about her own struggles with manic-depression. Both are equal mixtures of hope and disbelief, especially for those of us watching from the outside.

Half In Love by Linda Gray-Sexton. I have never read a memoir about suicide (and I've read a few) that was so honest, so free of platitudes, and just so beautifully written. If you've been stymied by the suicide of a loved one (or contemplated your own), this sure isn't an easy read, but oh my goodness, it's worth it simply for her meditations on that mammoth Mac truck called pain.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté. All about addiction, from a doc who works on Vancouver's east side. Stories and research in an elegant dance...

I have a bunch of slightly more positive books, too, but I'll save them for another post. For now, if you read any of these, let me know what you think. I'm curious...


  1. One of the ones that was a big help to me at the time, and that I strongly recommend, was _Malignant Sadness_, by Lewis Wolpert. It was interesting to read a biologist who lived with depression struggling to understand it--and how to live with it.

  2. Thanks for the recommendations--I'll check it out. The title's a great description...


Post a Comment

Popular Posts