21 Books to Read for Mental Health Awareness Month, a Reader’s Advisory

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to hold a spotlight up to various mental health issues and to provide community awareness so sufferers know they aren’t alone in their struggles.

No list could be exhaustive, but here are 21 books on different mental health topics and for different reading levels. Click on the title to order the book from the online library catalog.


Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker. Adult, Non-Fiction. What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institutes of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother, to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amidst profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself.

Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole by Susan Cain. Adult, Non-Fiction. Shows how a bittersweet state of mind is the quiet force that helps us transcend our personal and collective pain. If we don’t acknowledge our own sorrows and longings, she says, we can end up inflicting them on others via abuse, domination, or neglect. But if we realize that all humans know – or will know – loss and suffering, we can turn toward each other. And we can learn to transform our own pain into creativity, transcendence, and connection.

Look Me In The Eye: My Life With Asperger’s by John Elder Robison. Young adult, Non-Fiction. Memoir of John Robison whose odd behavior was explained when he was diagnosed with a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome when he was forty and the change that made in his life.

Blood Orange Night: My Journey to the Edge of Madness by Melissa Bond. Adult, Non-Fiction. “Brain on Fire” meets “High Achiever” in this visceral, propulsive memoir detailing a woman’s accidental descent into prescription benzodiazepine dependence and the life-threatening impacts of the drugs’ long-term use.

Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life by Amanda Stern. Adult, Non-Fiction. The ordinary world never made sense to Amanda, who grew up certain her friends and family would die or disappear if she quit watching them, compulsively treating every parting as a final good-bye. Shuttled between divorced parents, from a barefoot bohemian existence in Greenwich Village to a sanitized, stricter world uptown, this smart, sensitive little girl experienced life through the distorting lense of an undiagnosed panic disorder.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison. Adult, Non-Fiction. The personal story of a manic depressive and authority on the subject describes the onset of the illness during her teenage years, and her determined journey through the range of available treatments.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk. Adult, Non-Fiction. In The Body Keeps the Score, trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring—specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust. He shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies.

On Edge: A Journey Through Anxiety by Andrea Petersen. Adult, Non-Fiction. A wry, sympathetic, bracingly honest account of living with anxiety, coupled with deep reportage on the science of anxiety disorders.

Stanley Will Probably Be Fine by Sally J. Pla. Juvenile, Fiction. After fainting during a school assembly, Stanley uses his time in a safe room to begin drawing a comic book superhero and then enters a treasure hunt so that he can win passes to Comic Fest.

The Place Between Breaths by An Na. Young Adult, Fiction. Grace, sixteen, fears that she will succumb to the schizophrenia that took her mother away, while she and her father work for a genetics lab rushing to find a cure.

All Grown Up by Jani Attenberg. Adult, Fiction. Hiding the truth about her unhappiness and struggles with anxiety from everyone including her family, best friend, and therapist, Andrea Bern joins her loved ones in a reevaluation of family strength in the wake of her newborn niece’s heartbreaking ailment.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: a Therapist, her Therapist, and our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb. Adult, Non-Fiction. The national advice columnist presents a behind-the-scenes tour of a therapist’s world from the perspective of both a patient and a psychotherapist who found answers in her client’s journeys.

What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Bruce Perry. Adult, Non-Fiction. Oprah Winfrey, sharing stories from her own past, and a renowned brain development and trauma expert discuss the impact of trauma and adversity and how healing must begin with a shift to asking, “What happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?”

Everything Here is Beautiful: A Novel by Mira T Lee . Adult, Fiction. Two sisters — Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister’s protector; Lucia, the headstrong, unpredictable one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts hearing voices, it is Miranda who must find a way to reach her sister. But Lucia impetuously plows ahead, marrying a bighearted, older man only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant.

Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health by Thomas Insel MD. Adult, Non-fiction. A bold, expert, and actionable map for the re-invention of America’s broken mental health care system As director of the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Thomas Insel was giving a presentation when the father of a boy with schizophrenia yelled from the back of the room, “Our house is on fire and you’re telling me about the chemistry of the paint! What are you doing to put out the fire?” Dr. Insel knew in his heart that the answer was not nearly enough.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Adult, Non-Fiction. In this book, the author explores an intensely personal yet universal experience: a portrait of a marriage – and a life, in good times and bad – that will speak to anyone who has ever loved a husband or wife or child.

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon. Adult, Non-Fiction. In this powerful and provocative memoir, genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.

The Mind Club: Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters By Daniel M. Wegner. Adult, Non-Fiction. From dogs to gods, the science of understanding mysterious minds—including your own. Nothing seems more real than the minds of other people. When you consider what your boss is thinking or whether your spouse is happy, you are admitting them into the “mind club.” It’s easy to assume other humans can think and feel, but what about a cow, a computer, a corporation? What kinds of mind do they have?

Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love by Zack McDermott. Adult, Non-Fiction. Zack McDermott, a 26-year-old Brooklyn public defender, woke up one morning convinced he was being filmed, Truman Show-style, as part of an audition for a TV pilot. Every passerby was an actor; every car would magically stop for him; everything he saw was a cue from “The Producer” to help inspire the performance of a lifetime. After a manic spree around Manhattan, Zack, who is bipolar, was arrested on a subway platform and admitted to Bellevue Hospital.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan. Adult, Fiction. After her mother’s suicide, grief-stricken Leigh Sanders travels to Taiwan to stay with grandparents she never met, determined to find her mother who she believes turned into a bird.

Girl in pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. Young Adult, Fiction. Charlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you.

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