11 Powerful Memoirs About Mental Illness

By Stephanie Brown
A collection of diverse books spread out, featuring various topics from personal memoirs to mental health and inspirational journeys.

These illuminating narratives shine through the darkness.

Struggles with mental health can be overwhelming, but you should know that you’re never alone. The following memoirs about mental illness illustrate this beautifully, delivering deeply personal accounts of survival while reminding us that storytelling is a tool for connecting with others and understanding ourselves in new ways.

Book cover for 'while you were out' by meg kissinger, exploring the personal and historical perspectives on mental illness.

While You Were Out

By Meg Kissinger

Award-winning journalist Meg Kissinger delivers a stirring and surprisingly humorous personal history of her family’s struggles with mental illness and suicide in her new memoir. At first glance, the Kissingers appeared healthy and happy, a boisterous bunch of eight children in the 1960s Chicago suburbs. However, several of the family members were also suffering from mental illness — an ordeal made worse by a culture of silence and shame surrounding it. As an adult, Kissinger became an investigative journalist, exposing the issues in America’s broken mental healthcare system and sharing stories of the people impacted by it. In While You Were Out, Kissinger invites us in on this conversation, sharing her family’s trauma and resiliency in the hope for a better tomorrow.

Book cover of 'brain on fire: my month of madness' by susannah cahalan – an evocative memoir of a writer's descent into madness due to a rare illness, hailed by npr as an unexpected gift and a tale of courage.

Brain on Fire

By Susannah Cahalan

At the age of 24, journalist Susannah Cahalan woke up in a hospital room with no memory of how she got there, plagued by a mysterious illness with intensifying psychotic symptoms. Brain on Fire chronicles Cahalan’s desperate search for answers and her struggle to reclaim her identity. A skilled reporter, Cahalan meticulously recounts her ordeal, piecing together the experience through medical records and her parents’ journals, and documenting the pain and isolation she felt while searching for a diagnosis.

An ecstatic raccoon with wide eyes and a broad smile is bursting out with joy against a vibrant yellow background scattered with sparkles, promoting the book "furiously happy" by jenny lawson, acclaimed as a humorous take on personal struggles.

Furiously Happy

By Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson excels at chronicling her depression and anxiety with blunt honesty and wit. In Furiously Happy, the bestselling author’s signature style is on full display, capturing what it feels like to live with anxiety and depression. This simultaneously laugh-out-loud and deeply affecting mental illness memoir is all about finding joy in our darkest moments.

A book cover for "reasons to stay alive" by matt haig, with a stylized pattern of clouds in shades of yellow and blue and a small silhouette of a person at the bottom.

Reasons to Stay Alive

By Matt Haig

When he was 24 years old, Matt Haig, author of the bestselling novel The Midnight Library, faced a battle with depression that led him to consider ending his life. Reasons to Stay Alive is his story of overcoming an illness that nearly destroyed him. Suffused with raw openness and hard-earned advice, Haig’s narrative explores how he found reasons to live, love, and appreciate existence. His memoir offers a glimpse into his journey and provides valuable insights for readers dealing with their own challenges.

Willow Weep for Me

By Nana-Ama Danquah

Nana-Ama Danquah’s powerful account is one of the first to explore the needs of Black women with clinical depression — and it remains an urgent and necessary book decades after its release. Willow Weep for Me illustrates the outsize burden Black women in the U.S. carry when experiencing mental illness and the distinct challenges they face as they seek out help. After suffering in silence and isolation, Danquah befriends other Black women with depression and finds the support she needs to confront the childhood traumas underlying her pain.

The image shows a book cover with the title "strangers to ourselves: unsettled minds and the stories that make us" by rachel aviv, overlaid with a subtle, shimmering effect that slightly distorts the text.

Strangers to Ourselves

By Rachel Aviv

Award-winning journalist Rachel Aviv combines personal memoir with the experiences of others in this acclaimed exploration of mental illness and how moments of crisis shape our perception of ourselves. Both a story of the strangers whose diagnoses she seeks to understand and Aviv’s own history living in a hospital ward as a child, Strangers to Ourselves combines research, personal history, and archival biographical research. The result is a movingly complex approach to the mental illness memoir. 

Three individuals enjoying a carefree run along the shoreline, encapsulating a moment of joy and togetherness.

Everything Is Fine

By Vince Granata

In this harrowing family memoir about mental illness and grief, Vince Granata reflects on his brother Tim’s decades-long struggle with unchecked schizophrenia, a struggle that led Tim to murder their mother in their childhood home. Throughout Everything Is Fine, Granata confronts the tragedy and his profound loss, delivering an unsparing account of what it’s like to live with a family member suffering from mental illness. Yet Granata’s memoir is also about hope and healing, offering a “moving testament to the therapy of art, the power of record, and [the author’s] immutable love for his family” (Booklist).

A book cover of "girl, interrupted" by susanna kaysen, commemorating the 30th anniversary edition, featuring a fragmented image and text praising the memoir.

Girl, Interrupted

By Susanna Kaysen

In Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen crafts a vivid first-person account of the two years she spent as a young woman at Massachusetts’ McLean Hospital in the late 1960s. The inspiration for the 1999 book-to-movie adaptation of the same name, Kaysen’s bestselling memoir grapples with shifting — and at times conflicting — attitudes toward psychiatric treatment and mental illness, offering a “powerful examination not only of Kaysen’s own imperfections but of those of the system that diagnosed her” (Vogue).

The Center Cannot Hold

By Elyn R. Saks

Elyn R. Saks is a renowned lawyer, professor, and psychiatrist. She has also suffered from schizophrenia for most of her life. In The Center Cannot Hold, Saks deals frankly with her condition, detailing the paranoia, violent thoughts, and suicidal episodes she’s experienced. She also relates how she learned to live with her disease and overcame obstacles to thrive in her field of work. Throughout her fascinating and moving memoir, the author eloquently challenges cultural assumptions about mental illness and offers hope for others who are navigating profoundly difficult diagnoses.

A book cover with the title "group: how one therapist and a circle of strangers saved my life" by christie tate, adorned with several illustrations of upside-down chairs in a pale blue shade against a lighter blue background, and including a testimonial describing the memoir as "hilarious and ultimately very touching" from people magazine, along with a label indicating it's a new york times bestseller and part of reese's book club.

Group

By Christie Tate

A high-achieving professional, Christie Tate couldn’t figure out why her seemingly perfect life brought her nothing but misery. Then she finds Dr. Rosen and his group therapy sessions. While she’s initially reluctant, Tate soon discovers that Dr. Rosen’s nakedly honest approach to communal psychotherapy is exactly what she needs for her own personal growth. Brimming with candor and humor, Group offers an insightful look at group therapy and connecting with others on the road to recovery.

Person reaching out for a dish of tteokbokki on the cover of "i want to die but i want to eat tteokbokki," a south korean hit therapy memoir by baek sehee, translated by anton hur, published by bloomsbury.

I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki

By Baek Sehee

A runaway bestseller in South Korea, I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki is a creative and relatable mental illness memoir that doubles as a “testament to the gradual nature of therapy's cumulative healing effects” (BuzzFeed). After dealing with self-doubt, anxiety, and depression, Baek Sehee starts seeing a psychiatrist. She also starts recording their sessions and expanding upon her progress in short, reflective essays. Through both her sessions and her own writing, the author starts to understand her self-defeating cycles of harmful behavior and begins taking the steps necessary for change.

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