Books to better understand mental illness
By Emilyn Linden
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. During this time of increased stress, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge the importance of mental health and the strain these times are putting on everyone. There are many resources out there and tips on protecting your mental health and seeking treatment.
Here are a handful of books in the Fond du Lac Public Library collection, fiction and nonfiction, that explore mental illness in America and how people live with mental illness.
Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson: Jenny Lawson writes about living with severe depression, anxiety and other conditions with humor, love and understanding. It’s quirky, weird, full of rambling overanalyzing and laugh-out-loud hilarious observations about human absurdity. With more taxidermied raccoons and Japanese toilets than your average memoir.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain: This biting satire is set in Texas during the war in Iraq. Billy Lynn is 19, a member of Bravo Company and home from the war on a “Victory Tour” after an embedded crew from Fox News catches his company on camera in a firefight with insurgents. Billy is a mix of experience and inexperience. Still a virgin and too young to drink, he’s seen more death and suffering than most will see in their entire lives. This is a captivating depiction of the new American soldier’s mind as well as a compelling skewering of American society and how we treat our servicemen and women.
Collected Schizophrenias: Essays by Esmé Weijun Wang: Schizophrenia is not a single diagnosis, and Wang compellingly and insightfully speaks both to fellows of the “collected schizophrenias” and to those searching for greater understanding. Wang doesn’t offer easy answers where there are none. We still treat the schizophrenias as taboo. Physicians and researchers still have many disagreements about labels and procedures. Within these essays, Wang candidly explores her own experiences with schizoaffective disorder, psychosis and other confounding factors.
Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee: Chronic mental illness never impacts only the person with the diagnosis, it also profoundly impacts family and friends. Lee creates two Chinese-American sisters, Miranda and Lucia, to explore that reality. Older, responsible sister Miranda stands by her younger, outgoing, impulsive sister Lucia when Lucia starts hearing voices, spirals into depression and goes through periods of obsessive compulsion. Lee develops her characters - we see Lucia as an entire person, not just a case study - as she switches between perspectives to explore the impact of serious mental illness on families.
In Pain by Travis Reider: At this point in American history, we can’t speak about mental health awareness without addressing opioid addiction. This fascinating book was written by a bioethicist about his own experience with opioids following a motorcycle accident in 2015. After months and many surgeries, Reider went into acute opioid withdrawal when he tried to go off the drugs that played such an important role in his recovery. His doctor, ignorant of how to manage his opioid taper, suggested he go back on the drugs and try again later - a path to full-blown addiction. Reider, who continued to wean himself off the drugs, uses his experiences to explore American pain management, a health-care system that’s inept at managing opioids and the cultural barriers we must overcome to address these issues.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Emilyn Linden is a librarian at FDL Public Library.