Highly recommended mental health reading

As the year comes to an end, I find myself staring at my Goodreads page. I had a pretty good year for reading! Looks like I read 28 books when I wanted to read 20 – I’ll take it!

But, that’s not what I am writing about today, at least, not specifically. I wanted to pass along the books I have read in the mental health genre, both fictional and non-fictional. Some authors just do a remarkably good job of dealing with this realm, and it’s my honor to make a few recommendations. So, without further ado:

Fiction

  • The Summer The World Ended, Matthew Cox: A fantastic book about a young girl who experiences a traumatic loss and has her entire life uprooted. The book takes a close look at trauma, PTSD and more (which I can’t get into without spoiling).
  • Consider and Contribute, Kristy Acevedo: This was the only other book I could find which simultaneously dealt with a young adult, science fiction and mental illness! In the book, portals open, with aliens advising that Earth residents jump in them because the world is about to end. The book follows a young girl with major anxiety challenges and her struggles to deal with the new world. I also interviewed the author, Kristy Acevedo, here.
  • The Memory of Light, Francisco Stork: One of my favorites. It follows a young girl who survives a suicide attempt and her way back into the light. Stork was kind enough to answer an interview from me as well.

Non-Fiction

  • Lost Connections, Johann Hari: A controversial book which I had some issues with. Nonetheless, it offers some interesting insight into the ideas of social, societal and cultural causes behind depression and mental illness in general.
  • How To Break Up With Your Phone, Catherine Price: Okay, this isn’t exactly a mental health book, per se, but I think it is. It helps people learn how to stay away from their phones, and all the benefits that can bring. I also interviewed Price on the blog a few months ago.

And, of course, if you want one more book, allow me to suggest Redemption, my young adult, science fiction tale of depression, anxiety and saving the world.

Any other books to add? Please let us know in the comments. Have a WONDERFUL new year!

The Lost Connections by Johann Hari

I mentioned this book in my entry the other day and I really wanted to discuss it more.  Hari is a journalist who openly discusses his own battles with depression and anxiety as a young man.  He, like many of us, was put on anti-depressants.  Like many of us, he found success with anti-depressants, only to find their effectiveness waning.  He goes on to discuss nine different types of depression and anxiety, ways to reconnect and the various social causes of psychological illness.  This book opened my eyes in a lot of ways.  Much of what was said rang completely true.  At the same time, I found myself incredibly angry at some of the arguments Hari makes.

Let me do the angry part first, because I think that made more of an impact, at least in my mind, because it’s more dangerous.

Hari basically argues that anti-depressants are effective only in the short-term, and only then for a placebo effect.  This argument is partially – but only partially – supported by science.  I will say that it really made me do some research and I was dismayed at what I found. The record of anti-depressants in terms of long-term effectiveness is not a positive one.  The link above is actually for a Google search, not a specific article, and I’d encourage you to do your own research.

What’s my problem, then?  Easy: Hari completely dismisses the biological causes of depression, issues that legitimately may require depression to address.  While much research needs to be done on the specific biological components of depression, it is clear that there is a biological component. To dismiss that – and to thus dismiss biologically based treatments – is problematic and pseudo-scientific.  I have real issues with that, and I think that Hari is being disingenuous at best – and dangerous at worst – with this type of advocacy.

But.

Hari makes other, very persuasive arguments – ones that ring true, in my mind.  The one that hit me the most was these: The social element of mental illness.  Hari goes through a series of arguments about how our society is making us sicker: We have lost our connections to each other as we are busier and get more absorbed in our various electronic devices.  We are bombarded by “junk values,” that encourage materialism over intrinsic values and real connection to people.  We live in a sick world – last week’s news from Parkland is a great example – that make us depressed.

This much really made sense to me, and if this advice was taken by all of us, could be transformative.  Society’s obligation to deal with the mentally ill has to do with much more than just treating biological and psychological causes of mental illness – we have to address the social ones as well.

Anyway, is the book worth the read? In my opinion, yeah.  I think you have to read it with an entire shaker of salt, and keep in mind that some of what Hari says isn’t supported by science.  But much of it is, and hopefully, you can read between the lines, find the things that work for you and go from there.