SHOW TRIGGER WARNING Depression / Suicide


‘Staying Sane’ – Books on Mental Health

17th Apr 2014

'Staying Sane' - Books on Mental Health
Every year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem in England and Wales and by 2020 it's expected that depression will be the leading cause of health problems in Europe (Mind, 2012).

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place on May 12th-18th 2014 and For Books’ Sake is passionate about featuring fantastic writers who have written about their depression and mental health.

There are many organisations and individuals working to address the negative stigma of mental illness and open up a healthier dialogue and we’ve included a list of books and some blogs you might want to check out at the end of the feature.

Below are three inspirational writers who have written powerful, touching books that show no matter what you’re going through, there are others who have also spent time in the dark parts of their minds.

Every one of these books managed to reach me when I was in the dark and twisty place and I really believe they can be of great comfort for anyone who feels like they have to go through this alone.

You don’t have to go through it alone.

(…and if you feel you need to talk to someone then Mind, Samaritans, and Relate are great organisations and have contact information on their websites.)

Ruby Wax

In Sane New World: Taming the Mind  Ruby Wax shares her own mindfulness journey with her usual scathing wit and laugh-out-loud anecdotes.

Having struggled to maintain a career in the spotlight whilst living with bi-polar disorder she tells the story of training to become a qualified therapist, her love of neuroscience and her first encounters with the world of Mindfulness.

Wax found the concept of Mindfulness so appealing that she studied a Masters degree in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy at Oxford University.

Sane New World is all about mastering our minds; using Mindfulness as a tool to observe rather than engage with our negative thought patterns.

If you’re even a little bit curious (or sceptical) about the benefits of Mindfulness then this book is a great place to start. Ruby writes with such enthusiasm but also in a way that is grounded in very real talk – a really powerful blend of personal anecdotes, mindfulness exercises, scientific studies and self-deprecating one-liners.

She also toured the material for Sane New World in psychiatric institutions before taking the tour on to theatres worldwide: ‘I got the inmates’ ‘seal of approval’; these were my people, my tribe … and if you can make a schizophrenic laugh, you’re a hit.’

Check out her Ted Talk if you’re curious.

Philippa Perry

Philippa Perry is a qualified psychotherapist and author of the graphic novel Couch Fiction: A Graphic Tale of Psychotherapy and How to Stay Sane, a book for the first School Of Life series. She is also a prolific tweeter, columnist and wife to Grayson Perry.

Couch Fiction tells the story of the relationship between a psychotherapist and her client from both their perspectives and was written by Perry to dispel some of the myths and preconceptions people often have about being in therapy.

The book uses a fantastic storyboard format to show the progress of the therapists and client’s relationship but Perry also includes fascinating (and funny) footnotes with detailed explanations of some of the techniques used by therapists.

How to Stay Sane is slightly different in its focus but still has the warmth and clarity of Couch Fiction. Perry focuses on four key areas (Self-Observation, Relating to others, Stress and Personal narrative) that we can all work with in order to grow emotionally and hopefully enjoy life a little more and work with, (rather than fight) our inner, critical voices:

‘What makes me happy might make you miserable; what I find useful you might find harmful. Specific instructions about how to think, feel and behave thus offer few answers. So instead I want to suggest a way of thinking about what goes on in our brains, how they have and continue to develop.’

Watch her talk about the book here.

‘Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living’ Bornstein writes, ‘just don't be mean.'

Kate Bornstein

Kate Bornstein is an American author, playwright and gender theorist. I hadn’t heard of Bornstein until coming across a signed copy of Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks & Other Outlaws in a small bookshop in Toronto when I was going through a particularly rough patch about five years ago.

As a trans writer who doesn’t identify as a man or woman, Bornstein’s writing is particularly empathic with anyone who has every felt like they don’t fit into life’s often rigid categories:

‘The world is healthier because of its outsiders and outlaws and freaks and queers and sinners. I fall neatly into all of those categories, so it’s no big deal to me if you do or don’t… This is not a book of reasons to kill yourself…This is a book about things to do instead.’

Hello, Cruel World is tongue-in-cheek with its ‘How-To’ manual style and beautiful dark illustrations and also refreshingly sincere with its suicide alternatives; everything from ‘bake a cake’ to ‘eroticize the pain’ to ‘try to keep someone else alive’.

‘Do whatever it takes to make your life more worth living’ Bornstein writes, ‘just don’t be mean.’

You can watch Kate talk more on this video, a contribution for Dan Savage’s ‘It Gets Better’ campaign.

Some of For Books’ Sakes other favourite books that deal with mental health:

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf – Ntzozake Shange

Live Through This – Sabrina Chap

Staceyann Chin – The Other Side of Paradise

Rebecca Goss – Her Birth

Billy, Me & You –  Nicola Streeten

Marbles – Ellen Forney

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell

Self Help for Your Nerves –  Dr. Claire Weekes

Other resources:

Aniqah C has reviewed some other mental health fiction/memoirs on her blog and Huma also writes about mental health issues over on her blog.

Are there any other books or resources you’d recommend for when times are tough?


  • Abbie Salter says:

    Just bought Sane New World 🙂 This is really bloody great.

  • Beulah Devaney says:

    I would suggest The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

  • Marie-Claire Conlin says:

    Also anything written by Geneen Roth (but this may be the stuff for a future feature!)