May is Mental Health Awareness Month

One in five adults in the United States has a mental illness. However, 45% of cases of mental illness go untreated. A long-stigmatized issue, mental health has only recently broken taboo and become a topic of conversation. In order to facilitate the much-needed discussion about mental health, the United States has recognized May as Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949. Normalizing mental illness was a process of extended social change, one that included a revolution in pop culture – especially literature. Fictional portrayals of mental illness from Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower to Craig Gilner in It’s Kind of a Funny Story has provided an outlet for readers to relate to the struggles of these characters and develop their own understanding of mental illness. However, depictions of mental illness have transcended fiction, as an increasing number of autobiographical accounts on mental illness have garnered recent popularity.

This month we are sharing five of the most revealing and important memoirs on mental health. Whether you experience mental illness, or want to understand mental illness from an outsider perspective, these books have something to offer everyone.

1. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

“In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she’d never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years in the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele—Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles—as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. Kaysen’s memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a ‘parallel universe’ set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.” -Amazon


2. Hurry Down Sunshine: A Father’s Story of Love and Madness by Michael Greenberg

“Hurry Down Sunshine is an extraordinary family story and a memoir of exceptional power. In it, Michael Greenberg recounts in vivid detail the remarkable summer when, at the age of fifteen, his daughter was struck mad. It begins with Sally’s sudden visionary crack-up on the streets of Greenwich Village, and continues, among other places, in the out-of-time world of a Manhattan psychiatric ward during the city’s most sweltering months. It is a tale of a family broken open, then painstakingly, movingly stitched together again.” -Amazon


3. Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression by Sally Brampton

A successful magazine editor and prize-winning journalist, Sally Brampton launched Elle magazine in the UK in 1985. But behind the successful, glamorous career was a story that many of her friends and colleagues knew nothing about―her ongoing struggle with severe depression and alcoholism. Brampton’s is a candid, tremendously honest telling of how she was finally able to ‘address the elephant in the room,’ and of a culture that sends the overriding message that people who suffer from depression are somehow responsible for their own illness. She offers readers a unique perspective of depression from the inside that is at times wrenching, but ultimately inspirational, as it charts her own coming back to life. Beyond her personal story, Brampton offers practical advice to all those affected by this illness. This book will resonate with any person whose life has been haunted by depression, at the same time offering help and understanding to those whose loved ones suffer from this debilitating condition.” -Amazon


4. Lucky by Alice Sebold

In a memoir hailed for its searing candor, as well as its wit, Alice Sebold reveals how her life was transformed when, as an eighteen-year-old college freshman, she was brutally raped and beaten in a park near campus. What ultimately propels this chronicle of sexual assault and its aftermath is Sebold’s indomitable spirit, as she fights to secure her rapist’s arrest and conviction and comes to terms with a relationship to the world that has forever changed. With over a million copies in print, Lucky has touched the lives of a generation of readers. Sebold illuminates the experience of trauma victims and imparts a wisdom profoundly hard-won: ‘You save yourself or you remain unsaved.’ Now reissued with a new afterword by the author, her story remains as urgent as it was when it was first published eighteen years ago.” -Amazon


5. Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Elizabeth Wurtzel writes with her finger on the faint pulse of an overdiagnosed generation whose ruling icons are Kurt Cobain, Xanax, and pierced tongues. Her famous memoir of her bouts with depression and skirmishes with drugs, Prozac Nation is a witty and sharp account of the psychopharmacology of an era.” -Amazon

Mental Health Resources

Reading and educating ourselves on mental illness is only the first step in getting involved. Resources exist online to help educate, alleviate, and spread the word about mental illness. Some of these resources include:

Although May is an instrumental month in mental health advocacy, it is only one month out of the year. Advocacy and awareness of resources should remain at the forefront of our society, and mental health should continue to be discussed moving forward. For more ideas on how to get involved and stay involved with mental health moving forward, look here:

Blog by Karenna.

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