Mental Health Awareness: a bookshelf

As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, it is crucial to remember that the conversation surrounding mental health should extend far beyond a mere seven days. Our mental well-being is integral to leading a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. To honour this, our writers have curated a book list designed to create conversation, promoting understanding, empathy and self-care. Each book offers a unique perspective and reminds us that mental health is a deeply individual experience, yet one that unites us all.

Books possess an incredible power to bridge gaps, spark conversations and present abstract feelings and ideas. As we venture beyond Mental Health Awareness Week, let us carry the insights found within these pages, extending our dedication to mental health advocacy, understanding and support throughout the entire year.

The books in this list provide a diverse range of narratives, exploring various aspects of mental health with sensitivity and depth. They offer glimpses of dealing with depression, anxiety, trauma and other mental health challenges, while also highlighting stories of resilience, recovery and personal growth. These books serve as a reminder that mental health is not a one-size-fits-all concept; it as diverse as the individuals who experience it.

Luke Chapman:

The Winter of Our Discontent – John Steinbeck

Although Steinbeck’s final novel may not be as renowned as the likes of Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath, I certainly have a soft spot for the story of the protagonist Ethan Allen Hawley. The title of this book is taken from the opening lines of Shakespeare’s Richard III, which to me alludes to the search for meaning in a world that has lost its way. This is a common theme throughout the book, as Ethan struggles with his moral compass and the temptations of accumulating wealth and power. Small-town life, as Steinbeck so often depicts, is tough and tolling, especially when burdened with an expectation to live up to what was once an aristocratic family name. The novel candidly explores themes of morality, corruption and isolation, as Ethan attempts to reclaim his former wealth and status. But at the heart of this novel is the theme of peer pressure, which is ultimately what perpetuates Ethan’s suicidal ideation. The pressure to fit in, to be “successful” by any means necessary, inevitably takes its toll, leading Ethan to a swarm of guilt and shame. The novel’s standout quote is undoubtedly, “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen”, which is one that I think speaks for itself,  in the midst of a mental health crisis. Overall, this book has shown me that you never really know what someone is truly thinking, and that is something I think remains as relevant as ever.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky

Given the nature of this list, it seemed almost impossible for me not to include The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The story holds a special place in my heart as it follows the introverted protagonist, Charlie, as he navigates the complexities of adolescence. The title itself is all about this sense of uniqueness and difference, championing the value of absorbing life from the sidelines. Chbosky’s writing captures the bittersweet essence of growing up, as Charlie experiences moments of joy, heartbreak and self-discovery. Through his letters, Charlie sheds light on his experiences of anxiety and depression, particularly the way in which it blinds you into only thinking negatively, rejecting the many positives life brings with it. To me, the story of Charlie was always a reminder that it’s often the quite observers who glean the most profound insights of life, and are typically stronger because of it. Chbosky’s coming-of-age novel particularly resonates with readers who have felt like outsiders, which most of us have at some point, and reminds us that there is strength and beauty in embracing our own quirks and finding our place in the world.

Petr Malásek:

Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

Its title being a reference to Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope” is the thing with feathers, this short book is concerned with one thing: grief. After a tragic death of a mother of two, a crow appears in a London flat, becoming a device for understanding and getting over the deepest pain a person has ever felt. Not only it is wonderfully written in its dark poetics, this piece encapsulates the deepest feeling of sadness, helping the reader to get over their own struggles. A book I recommend whenever someone wants to feel a tear in their eye – the question is, whether it is a tear of sadness or of understanding.

Emilia Growney:

Woman, Eating – Claire Kohda

Lydia throughout the book suffers from intense imposter syndrome as she battles with her identity post-graduation. Although she’s always struggled, the impact of her mother’s absence, along with many social and academic changes, opens up a time of choice which she’s never really had. Woman, Eating isn’t presented as some great self-help book, but it’s a book that helps in a comedic and different way. We see Lydia accept and have confidence in her choices in life, no matter how good or bad they are. Lydia, being a demon who consumes blood and nothing else, I didn’t think I would see much of myself in her, but as a woman in her early 20s, I think this book is realistic and offers up comfort for those who don’t know what to do just yet with their life. She meets people who she admires but who, when it comes to the Art world, are not great successes, which helps her navigate between what she actually wants and finds joy in and what she’s assumed is ‘success’, given her father’s legacy.

Taylor Green:

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

I first encountered this tear-jerker at the ripe age of 13, and grappling with the death of a loved one, as this book does unashamedly, is hardly a reasonable task for someone so young to undertake alone. Despite that, it’s necessary for those who go through it. The book illustrates these potent emotions of grief and dread tucked away in the child’s mind spending their final days alongside their mother. This impending separation provides a necessity to collaborate and become closer, provoking a greater sense of kinship. Moreover, the days spent are juxtaposed with those grey internal feelings. Instead, they are bright, fulfilling and expound from these memories a form of coping, and awakened a great sense of comfort in the last moments I could spend with my mother at such a young age. However, there is still that bitter feeling behind each day, illustrating the truly unnerving fate of death and constructing this journey through the boy’s physical and imagined planes. Finally, this book showed me that simple pleasures and memories become the most painful. That is no truer here. Knowing that there is little time left to spend and letting that slip away from one’s grasp is an unimaginably difficult task to come to terms with, but that is what the boy must do as they part from one another, as did I.


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