World Mental Health Day

Today, 10 October, is World Mental Health Day. I write about this both because it’s an important cause that affects many many people, and because books and reading have a major part to play in helping improve mental health.

This year World Mental Health Day has the theme “dignity in mental health” – dealing with stigma and discrimination, changing social attitudes and spreading public awareness of the nature of mental illness. These are all major aims of Bristol Mind, among others, and many people are holding coffee mornings and other events around the city – and the world – today.

As author Matt Haig discussed in his excellent article for the Telegraph yesterday, books can genuinely help those with depression and other mental-health issues. The Reading Agency works with GPs to prescribe books to alleviate mental-health problems through its Reading Well scheme. And this actually works. Reading reduces stress; it also improves empathy, memory and cognition – perhaps we should all be prescribed books!

Books are also an important tool for awareness. It’s one thing to be told a string of facts about mental health. It’s another to spend several hours living those facts via a novel or memoir. Time to Change put together a list of books about living with mental illness for World Book Day 2012, and you may find some of the titles suggested surprising.

Personally, I have learned so much about mental illness from The Bell Jar, The Hours, Franny and Zooey, Wish Her Safe at Home, Swimming Home, Beside the Sea, Mr Chartwell and countless other books. While I’ve had my own moments of anxiety and depression, I’m lucky enough not to suffer from either regularly or to a crippling degree, but I know others who have and I think it’s important to try to understand what that’s like. Books are my way in.

What about you? Have you read books that helped you to understand mental health issues? Or perhaps you disagree that reading can be useful in this way? Let me know in the comments!

4 thoughts on “World Mental Health Day

  1. Martin October 10, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    I just recently read A Fool, Free by Beate Grimsrud. It’s a novel about an author/film maker/playwright with schizophrenia who just happens to have written books and made films with the same titles as Beate Grimsrund’s, and who decides to write a book about her mental illness. It’s easy to assume she’s writing about her own experience.
    I know very little about schizophrenia beyond those times when someone makes the news and is described as a “paranoid schizophrenic”, so I don’t really know if I’m better informed now but for me it really humanised people who have the disease.

    The book’s very fractured and fragmented – it jumps around in time between her childhood and her adult life – and it has its moments of violence and self-harm, and yet I found it to be a really lyrical and beautiful book. It’s also *really* easy to just dip in and out of, as chapters are usually one or two pages – 4 pages is a long chapter.

  2. Deb Nance at Readerbuzz October 11, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Books are a wonderful help for depression and stress, I think. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Anne October 11, 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Mental Illness is the theme of many YA books this year: Challenger Deep by Shusterman is my favorite. I also like The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B; Mosquitoland; and All the Bright Places. Thanks for the timely post.
    My Sunday Salon

  4. Rachel B October 12, 2015 at 1:29 am

    I’ve read countless books on the subject and am passionate about reducing stigma. I’m taking an Abnormal Psychology class rifht now and am reading a lot of non-fiction on the subject, though I’m way behind on the reviews.

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