Mental health is equally as important as physical health. And according to some experts, the two are deeply linked. But vital as it is, mental health is something that no one really teaches us about from a young age. Which is why our emotional IQ is often sorely lacking.
Ironically, as technology advances at lightning speed, we still seem to be at a loss regarding what's inside our hearts and minds.
On the bright side, there have been a lot of illuminating and helpful books written on the subject of mental health. And whether we are suffering from a specific malady like anxiety or depression or trying to deal with the stress of our uncertain times, it’s ultimately up to us to educate ourselves.
In that spirit, we’ve gathered up 20 of the best books to read on mental health. They range from books on specific topics such as depression and trauma to self-help works on how to live a fuller and happier life.
Let’s get the conversation about mental health rolling.
1. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Lori Gottlieb)
This refreshingly candid account from LA therapist Lori Gottlieb offers insights into mental health from both sides of the couch. After a personal crisis throws her life out of balance, she herself becomes the patient.
Her self-discovery journey about the truth and lies we tell ourselves is illuminating, funny and highly relatable in her book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. By being bold enough to share her own personal experience, Gottlieb ultimately offers us a universal and hopeful tale of what it means to be human.
2. An Unquiet Mind (Kay Redfield Jamison)
This bestseller from Dr. Kay Jamison explores bipolar disorder as both a clinical psychologist and as someone who suffers from the condition. Her unique perspective as both healer and patient offers profound insight into this condition’s exhilarating highs and catastrophic lows.
Boldly honest and filled with wisdom, this powerful account is one of the most well-respected books on the subject.
3. The Happiness Trap (Russ Harris)
In this book, Rus Harris argues that the way most of us try to find happiness ends up making us miserable, anxious and depressed.
Based on psychotherapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), The Happiness Trap teaches us how to develop mindfulness so that we can live fully in the present moment and find deeper satisfaction in life.
4. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (Andrew Solomon)
This award-winning book is one of the most detailed and personal accounts written on the subject of depression. Drawing on his own experience and those of fellow sufferers, Solomon gifts us with a personal, cultural and scientific perspective on this common illness.
This book helps us understand the agonies of depression and offers us hope and insight into the larger human condition
5. Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior (Mark Goulston, Philip Goldberg)
Procrastination, anger, self-pity, guilt, obsession and envy, if you’re human (and honest with yourself), you can probably relate to at least some of the 40 self-destructive patterns described in this book.
This classic of the mental health sector takes a highly practical approach in confronting and overcoming our self-debilitating behaviors to transform our lives.
Chris Norris, Managing Editor at Sleep Standards, also adds, “ This book is very insightful and makes your reading time worthwhile. It is easy and really amazing to read. One of the writers, Mark Goulston, a psychiatrist who provided steps on how to stop the self-sabotaging behavior in you.”
6. Black Pain (Terri Williams)
In this book, mental health advocate, Terri Williams addresses the topic of depression in the black community, a condition that is often swept under the rug. Throughout Black Pain, she speaks openly of how her own emotional pain affected her life and how it is uniquely related to the black experience.
After years of keeping her “game face” on, she collapsed without understanding what was wrong with her. During her road to recovery she was able to put a name to her malady - depression.
She also discovered her personal mission: to break the crippling silence of this taboo. As her own experience taught her firsthand, the only way to step into the healing light is by facing the trauma head-on and seeking the help you need.
7. Own Yourself (Kelly Brogan, MD)
In a time where mental illness is often treated with prescriptions, Holistic psychiatrist Kelly Brogan offers an alternative approach. Instead of “fixing” mental illness with medication, she suggests that pain needs to be processed and accepted before it can be healed.
In her book, she describes a non-medicated approach to healing that encourages mental health seekers to deep dive into their emotional inventory and find healing from within. Ultimately, Own Yourself is not only a book about the path to mental wellness but the journey of finding your own authentic self.
8. This Is Depression (Dr. Diane McIntosh)
Psychiatrist Diane McIntosh has over 20 years of experience treating patients with depression. In This is Depression, she describes some of the causes of depression and the variety of treatment options available today.
With research and personal accounts of patients, she sheds both light and hope on a too often ignored subject. If you’re suffering from depression yourself or know someone that is, this book can be a valuable guide.
9. Be Calm (Jill Weber, Ph.D.)
40,000 million Americans are reported to suffer from anxiety and know that the symptoms can strike at any time. This practical guide offers both explanations of these symptoms and techniques that will help you control them.
Easy to read and apply to your own situation, this book will be appreciated by people searching for inner calm.
10. Own Your Own Anxiety (Julian Brass)
Anxiety coach Julian Brass helps people to cope with this disruptive emotion by turning it into positive action. Instead of looking at their anxiety as something they have to fight, Brass reframes this condition as a gift. Through practical lessons, he teaches us how to overcome anxiety by owning it in our lives' three key areas: mind, body and soul.
Combining approaches from both eastern philosophy and western medical research, he offers accessible techniques for mastering anxiety and living a healthier lifestyle. Warm, positive and sometimes irreverent, this book makes mastering anxiety fun.
11. When The Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease (Gabor Maté, MD)
Gabor Maté explores the connection between mind and body by identifying links between chronic stress and illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis and more.
Based on medical research and on patients from his own practice, Dr. Maté clearly explains the biological mechanisms that are activated by stress or trauma and the influence that they have on the body in his book When The Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease.
As a formula for healing and illness prevention, he offers us the “Seven A’s of Healing,” a guide to overcoming the effects of hidden stress.
12. The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook (Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.)
Because they absorb energy too easily, highly sensitive people (HSP) have trouble managing their emotions and staying calm. A psychologist and expert on this personality trait, Dr. Aron is the author of the bestselling, The Highly Sensitive Person.
Due to the enormous response to her book, she developed this workbook for both empaths and HSP. In it, she offers a collection of activities and exercises to help them nurture a positive self-image and create a fuller, richer life.
Lessons include reframing past experiences, coping with overarousal, dream interpretation and more.
13. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (Susan Jeffers)
No one is free from fear. Whether it be a fear of heights, speaking in public or growing old, it’s there in our consciousness and can be debilitating to our mental health.
In this book, Susan Jeffers helps us identify our hidden fears and offers techniques to overcome them. Both challenging and liberating, this book sets out to root out the fears that are holding you back and help you lead a fuller, richer life.
14. The Body Keeps The Score (Bessel van der Kolk, MD)
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is one of the world’s leading experts on trauma and has worked with survivors for over thirty years. In The Body Keeps the Score, he elaborates on how trauma reshapes the body and brain and reduces the capacity for pleasure, engagement and self-control.
This powerful book helps us to understand the effects of trauma better while offering hope to its survivors.
15. Broken Open (Elizabeth Lesser)
According to Elizabeth Lesser we have two choices when we face challenging circumstances. We can either choose to be broken down and defeated or broken open and transformed.
With a combination of personal experiences and moving stories from ordinary people, Lesser shows us how to move through loss and adversity to become stronger, wiser and more connected to our purpose.
She also draws on the great spiritual and psychological traditions to guide you on the transformative journey in Broken Open.
16. Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha (Tara Brach, Ph.D.)
Tara Brach writes that “Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and pernicious suffering.” The result, according to Dr. Brach, is crippling self-judgment and conflict in our relationships.
In this practical guide, Brach draws on Buddhist teachings to offer us a path to freedom through “radical acceptance.” Through case studies, personal stories and meditations she demonstrates how to lose the fear and shame and build authentic, loving relationships.
Radical acceptance is not to be confused with passivity but is instead a powerful tool for genuine change.
Physician Assistant and Entrepreneur Ben Tanner adds more about Radical Acceptance. Tanner shares, “Radical Acceptance is more about focusing our attention inward, and exploring our deep and sometimes hidden thoughts and emotions. We can learn to accept ourselves for who we are, without feeling the strain that comes from constantly wishing we were something different.
17. Rising Strong (Brené Brown)
Social scientists and self-help guru Brené Brown have become a global phenomenon in recent years. At the heart of her work is the theory that vulnerability is the key to living a more loving, brave and satisfying life.
She tackles a different subject. Rising Strong is centered around stories of people overcoming adversity by recognizing their emotions and not being afraid to lean in to discomfort. In other words, we must move through our uncomfortable feelings rather than trying to deny them.
According to Brown, accepting our stories not only gives us the strength to rise up after a fall but helps us to live a more satisfying and authentic life.
18. The Courage To Be Disliked (Ichiro Kashimi and Fumitake Koga)
This bestseller from Japan focuses on how to determine the direction of our own lives by freeing ourselves from past trauma and the expectations of other people.
At the heart of the book are the concepts of self-forgiveness, self-care and mind decluttering. This work challenges us to develop the courage to overcome the limitations we put on ourselves and live a fuller, happier life.
19. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D.)
Have you ever enjoyed something you were doing so much that you felt completely engaged and lost all track of time? That is what the author of this modern classic calls “flow.” And according to Csikszentmihalyi, it’s the key to lasting happiness.
Through his investigations of flow or “optimal experience,” he found that people experienced deep joy and involvement in life during this state. In this work he also demonstrates how this state can be controlled and not just left to chance.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, by ordering the information that enters our consciousness, we can find the key to true happiness and improve our lives' quality.
20. Man’s Search For Meaning (Viktor E. Frankl, Ph.D.)
This memoir was first published in 1946, but it remains a classic to this day. In it, the author tells the story of his experience in the Nazi concentration camps.
Frankl's story of finding purpose and strength despite great adversity is extremely relevant to anyone struggling with fear and despair in our own uncertain times. At the core of the work is Frankl’s theory that it is not pleasure that drives man, but rather the search for what he finds meaningful.
Although it may seem like a harrowing tale from the outside, ultimately this is an inspiring story about finding purpose in life despite any and all obstacles.
Keep the Conversation Going
Although the subject of mental health has opened up a lot in recent years, there’s still a lot of fear and misunderstanding around conditions like anxiety, depression, trauma and more. Even if you don’t suffer from a specific malady, dealing with the stress and uncertainty of the new (and twisted) normal is a lot to handle.
The best solution is to educate ourselves, ask for help when we need it and keep the conversation about mental health rolling. Mental health issues should not be ignored and can range from eating disorders to OCD to schizophrenia and social anxiety. If you are personally struggling or you know a loved one who might need some help, there are plenty of mental health professionals out there to talk to.
Dr. Sharon Grossman, a psychologist, success coach and author of The 7E Solution to Burnout: Transforming High Achievers from Exhausted to Extraordinary, adds more about what she tells her patients.
Grossman shares, “I often recommend books to my clients to give them a deeper self-understanding. They aren't necessarily about mental health, but the process of understanding yourself and learning tips on how to avoid certain traps in life can help prevent mental health problems.”
“The reason I think they are so important is because it gives the reader new perspectives and with that renewed hope about how to live their best life,” Grossman continues.
We hope these 20 book suggestions are a good start to beginning your own mental health education and living a fuller, more satisfying life.
You might also be interested in: 10 Tips for Staying Healthy and Happy During the Coronavirus
The 20 best mental health books:
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Lori Gottlieb)
- An Unquiet Mind (Kay Redfield Jamison)
- The Happiness Trap (Russ Harris)
- The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (Andrew Solomon)
- Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior (Mark Goulston, Philip Goldberg)
- Black Pain (Terri Williams)
- Own Yourself (Kelly Brogan, MD)
- This Is Depression (Dr. Diane McIntosh)
- Be Calm (Jill Weber, Ph.D.)
- Own Your Own Anxiety (Julian Brass)
- When The Body Says No: Understanding the Stress-Disease (Gabor Maté, MD)
- The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook (Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.)
- Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway (Susan Jeffers)
- The Body Keeps The Score (Bessel van der Kolk, MD)
- Broken Open (Elizabeth Lesser)
- Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha (Tara Brach, Ph.D.)
- Rising Strong (Brené Brown)
- The Courage To Be Disliked (Ichiro Kashimi and Fumitake Koga)
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D.)
- Man’s Search For Meaning (Viktor E. Frankl, Ph.D.)