Fascinating Mental Health Books

If you’re anything like me (and I suspect you might be if you found yourself here in the first place) you enjoy reading about mental illness.  As most of my casual reading is on mental health, I thought I would point you in the direction of some amazing reads.

Bar none, the most fascinating book I have read on mental illness is by Richard Bentall.  His book ‘Madness Explained: Psychosis and Human Nature’ is a wonderful look at mental illness and the many misconceptions surrounding it.  Dr. Bentall has spent most of his professional career working with the severely mentally ill.  He has done extensive work on psychosis which is wonderfully presented in this book.

He explores the science behind hallucinations, voices, paranoia, depression, mania and everything in between.  The great thing about his work is that he does not believe in terms such as ‘schizophrenia, bipolar disorder’ and the like.  He makes an excellent case against the DSM diagnostic criteria of mental illness and does so with passion and poise. Definitely worth checking out for anyone who is interested in psychosis.

Next on the list would have to be Kay Redfield Jameson’s ‘Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament.’   Jameson, who is herself a sufferer of manic depressive illness takes a look through time at some of the most creative people who have ever lived on our planet and relates many of their accomplishments to mental illness.  Although she touches on other illnesses such as depression, she focuses mainly on bipolar disorder.  This was actually the book that originally got me interested in mental illness.  Take a look, and prepare to have everything you thought you knew about mental illness torn to pieces.

Also by Jameson is her memoir ‘An Unquiet Mind.’  This is a remarkable memoir detailing her struggles with psychotic mania and violent depressions.  Perhaps one of the most heartfelt biographies I have ever read.

Last on this list is ‘The Day the Voices Stopped’ by Ken Steele.  A lifelong sufferer of schizophrenia, Steele eloquently brings the reader into his mind from madness to hope.  His powerful words are definitely worth reading for anyone who has the debilitating illness or knows someone who suffers from it.  The hope that it provides is monumental as Steele went on to become a leader and speaker on schizophrenia.

Oooh, I almost forgot ‘Electroboy’ by Andy Behrman.   This astonishing account of bipolar disorder is a definite must-read for anyone who is subjected to the illness.  It reads as a fiction story as most of his real life is far stranger than fiction.  Behrman is an activist for mental health and certainly has the life experience to back up his passion.

Hopefully this short list will get you started on your journey to understand the most complex thing on Earth: the human mind.

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Exploring Stigma

*This was written for a teen-based publication, Evoke Magazine, but can be applied to all ages*

It’s an ugly little word that rears its ugly head in almost every aspect of human life.  But in order to combat stigma, we must first appreciate what it is, its negative power and the sneaky ways that we can all fall victim to it.

Stigma has the ability to create worry and self-doubt in anyone who bears its heavy brunt.  It has the ability to cause depressive thoughts, suicidal ideations and a negative self-image in impressionable young people.  It has the ability to change the way someone looks at the world.  It has the ability to take the drive and courage from a promising young mind with only a few words that can echo for a lifetime.

Stigma isn’t something that can be narrowed down to one specific set of behaviours.  It involves anything from labelling another as stupid, retarded, fat, nerdy, scrawny, crazy or any other demeaning term.  Essentially, it is deciding that someone else is inferior to you because you say so.

It isn’t until some people reach adulthood that they begin to realize the true impression that stigma left on their childhood experience.  Many young adults can speak at length of the pains of being labelled during elementary and high school.  It causes permanent damage and is certainly not something that is limited to the school experience.

The negative forces of stigma work in the real world as well.  They exist in creating political and racial divides, the stereotyping or profiling of minority groups and individuals and cause endless amounts of distress in our political and social world.  Unfortunately, much of that is out of our immediate hands.

However, it is the stigmas of everyday life that we can do something about.  When you break it down, stigma is caused by developing an uneducated assumption about a person or a group of people.  Therefore, stigma can be erased, or at least lessened, by becoming better educated about those around you.  Especially those who aren’t exactly like you.

It’s about not passing quick judgment on someone whose behaviour you might not understand.  It’s about not whispering to your friends in the hall that the desperately thin girl in front of you should just eat a hamburger.  It’s about not labelling a group of people ‘losers’ just because they don’t enjoy the same activities as you.  The bottom line is that it is about caring for your fellow humans and doing your part to ease the strain that we all feel as we struggle to find our place in the world.

Instead of labelling someone that is different than you, take the mature route and get to know them instead.  Get to appreciate your differences, which will in turn allow you to uncover your similarities.

Engage yourself and rise above stigma.  For the benefit of the future.