What should I read about mental illness
December 9, 2022 12:35 PM   Subscribe

2023 is going to be my year of reading about how we as a culture understand mental illness. I'm most interested in the history, social construction and cultural and political meaning of mental illness. What should I read?

Some examples I have read or have on my list for next year - to give a sense of what I'm looking for: Strangers to Ourselves, The Protest Psychosis, Girl, Interrupted. What else should I read? Memoir, history, social theory, whatever...
posted by latkes to Human Relations (26 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang
posted by babelfish at 12:37 PM on December 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

Elyn Saks, The Center Cannot Hold
posted by praemunire at 12:48 PM on December 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

The story that sparked a long history of discourse on the subject of institutional cruelty and oversight: Ten Days in a Mad-House (1887) by Nellie Bly, nee Elizabeth Cochran Seaman.
posted by Horkus at 12:58 PM on December 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

Must admit I’ve not read it, but The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon “examines the personal, cultural, and scientific aspects of depression through Solomon's published interviews with depression sufferers, doctors, research scientists, politicians, and pharmaceutical researchers.”
(Quote is from its its wikipedia page.)
posted by penguin pie at 1:08 PM on December 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker is about schizophrenia —specifically a family with 12 children, 6 who were diagnosed with it. It’s fascinating and upsetting and very interesting.
posted by bookmammal at 1:14 PM on December 9, 2022 [7 favorites]

Crazy Like Us - about the global spread and understanding of mental illness
Ordinarily Well - the author previously wrote a book called Listening to Prozac which is the Part I of this, but you can read this as a stand alone
The City Is Killing Me: Community Trauma and Toxic Stress in Urban America - a mental health clinician's experience in the grievously under-resourced areas of Chicago
Famished: Eating Disorders and Failed Care in America - really looks at the intersection of despair and trauma with mental health care and how insurance and managed care scaffold and cement specific behaviors and expectations
posted by quadrilaterals at 1:46 PM on December 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

Lost Connections by Johann Hari described by the Independent as a book that “isn't as much about science and mental health as it is about society, and the stories we tell around mental illness”.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:39 PM on December 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Okay, this one may be a little off topic, as focused on addiction rather than mental illness in specific but, since I read about this study, I can't help seeing the connection in systems of care (or the failure thereof)

The Globalization of Addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit. by Bruce K. Alexander. If you're curious, here's a summary, and there are also TED talks.
posted by SaharaRose at 2:41 PM on December 9, 2022

Madness and Civilization changed my life, read it with Discipline and Punish to get your sense of our culture's norms turned inside out.
posted by rainy day girl at 2:52 PM on December 9, 2022 [3 favorites]

"An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness" by [clinical psychologist, bipolar disorder researcher, professor] Kay Redfield Jamison
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:55 PM on December 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure by Eli Clare (broader than just mental health, but so worthwhile, especially in the ways it does weave together ableism in general)
posted by lapis at 3:03 PM on December 9, 2022

I found this article, Mental Illness is Not in You Head, to be quite interesting along these lines. It's sort-of a book review of two books that might be of interest.
posted by ssg at 3:28 PM on December 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Mad In America publishes some excellent research news and blogs. (Conflict of interest: my sister has written articles for them.)
posted by heatherlogan at 4:24 PM on December 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Came to suggest Foucault, rainy day girl beat me to it.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 4:25 PM on December 9, 2022

Reading Foucault, it's important not to take all his historical claims literally. The ideas are worth grappling with nonetheless.
posted by praemunire at 5:09 PM on December 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

Marbles by Ellen Forney; Rock Steady by Ellen Forney

Erika Moen is doing a graphic memoir, Letters from Space Camp, that's about her time in an intensive outpatient program. I'm not sure if it's going to be a Patreon-only thing or if she's going to eventually publish it as a physical book, but either way, I trust it'll be good. She also wrote some shorter comics about bipolar disorder for Oh Joy Sex Toy and the Nib.

LB Lee is another cartoonist (well, cartoonists, since they're multiple) who's written autobio about mental illness. (LB is short for Loony-Brain.) They have a number of books and also some free stuff online.

SW Searle has done some comics about her eating disorder, as well as at least one semi-autobio graphic novel. Info here: http://www.swinsea.com/whist/healing-is-a-process/

I don't think Akwaeke Emezi and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarashima would consider themselves mentally ill - Piepzna-Samarashima identifies as Mad, I think, and Emezi doesn't find Western ideas about mental health particularly helpful - but Piepzna-Samarashima's memoir Dirty River and Emezi's semi-autobio Freshwater and autobio Dear Senthurian might still be useful to you.

I also really liked this essay: http://www.behindthelabel.co.uk/does-language-matter/
posted by spiderbeforesunset at 7:31 PM on December 9, 2022 [2 favorites]

More of a memoir, but does talk about the cultural and racial bits of trauma and getting a diagnosis of complex PTSD, What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma, by Stephanie Foo (Goodreads). I read it instead of listening to the audiobook, but the audiobook includes parts of her own therapy sessions, if you were curious about that.
posted by sincerely yours at 7:46 PM on December 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

A Journey to the Medical Netherworld is one of the best things about mental illness I’ve ever read.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:00 PM on December 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend Andrew Scull's Desperate Remedies: Psychiatry's Turbulent Quest to Cure Mental Illness (2022). Reviews here, here and here, Amazon link here, publisher's webpage here (with a lot of related links to podcasts and interviews with the author).
posted by verstegan at 11:05 PM on December 9, 2022

RD Laing, his first book The Divided Self [1960] is available as PDF.
Pullquotes “Insanity -- a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.”
Schizophrenia cannot be understood without understanding despair.”
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:30 AM on December 10, 2022

For a historical perspective on how diagnoses have shifted over time, I highly recommend The Book of Woe by Gary Greenberg.
posted by kuma440 at 10:34 AM on December 10, 2022

The Empire of Depression by historian Jonathan Sadowsky is amazing.
posted by lesser whistling duck at 10:46 AM on December 10, 2022

Linguistically, Illness as Metaphor by Susan Sontag discusses how we talk about different diseases and assign different values and personal traits to different diseases. It's primarily about non-mental illnesses, but I think it'd add interesting context to your other readings.
posted by matrixclown at 12:21 PM on December 10, 2022

Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 7:11 PM on December 10, 2022

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich is a great read on lobotomies and there use for both mental health issues as well as seizure disorders, and the author has a family connection to one of the most famous surgeons who performed lobotomies, including the one that lead to Patient H.M. loosing his ability to remember, and becoming the person whom most study of memory in modern science is based on.
posted by momochan at 7:42 PM on December 10, 2022

A Disability History of the United States has a big chapter on mental illness in colonial and post-independence America (in my recollection).
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:48 PM on December 13, 2022

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