5 Mental Health Books That Have Shaped My Recovery

Patient Expert
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Dr. Seuss once wrote, "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go." Reading and educating yourself are the foundation of growth, especially when it comes to your mental health.

Over the years I have picked up insights from a variety of books. They have helped me persevere through my own struggles and empower me to fight against the stigma surrounding mental health. Among my collection of winners, five were especially helpful in my recovery and impacted my life in a positive way. Since my goal is to help everyone improve their situation, whether they are struggling or have a loved one that is, I wanted to share them with you.

1. The Mark of Shame: Stigma of Mental Illness and an Agenda for Change by Stephen P. Hinshaw

This book opened my eyes to the impact of stigma. Growing up with mental health challenges, I experienced this stigma in my own life. When a topic is kept hush-hush, it's easy to think that you are the only one experiencing it. It's difficult enough to deal with mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, but the shame that comes from the stigma surrounding it can feel downright unbearable.

Hinshaw brings the stigma into the light and into the conversation. He explains the problems that stigma causes and provides some great ideas on how we can overcome it.

2. Challenging the Stigma of Mental Illness: Lessons for Therapists and Advocates by Patrick W. Corrigan, David Roe, and Hector W. H. Tsang

Despite the book’s title, these pages are for everyone because anyone can be a mental health advocate. Corrigan and coauthors afforded me a new understanding of mental health advocacy.

The book is a must-read for professionals working with mental illness, but it's so much more than that. The authors discuss not only the public stigma and the issues that arise from it, but also the self-stigma that we can experience from internalizing the stereotypes that society is feeding us. This book teaches you how to be an advocate for yourself and other people.

3. The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs by Stephen S. Ilardi, Ph.D.

Advocacy includes self-care, and this book is self-care on steroids. It helped me establish some new habits in my life. Ilardi gave a great Ted Talk called "Depression is a Disease of Civilization" that goes along well with this book. His belief is that so many people are suffering from depression because our bodies were not made to accommodate the busy and rushed schedules that are part of modern-day life. His practical advice for self-care falls into six categories:

  • Brain food
  • Don’t think, do
  • Antidepressant exercise
  • Let there be light
  • Get connected
  • Habits of healthy sleep

I have applied his nutrition ideas and suggestions for social connectedness into my mental health recovery and they have helped.

4. Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D.

Schwartz provides a four-step method to help take control of obsessive-compulsive behavior.  He includes brain-imaging studies that prove this method can alter the brain's chemistry.

The book was recommended to me by a therapist because I struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder. I can have a simple conversation with someone and end up spending the rest of the day replaying the conversation in my head over and over, trying to decipher what the other person said and meant. Although the book hasn't stopped my obsessing completely, it has helped me to gain more control.

5. Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection by John E. Sarno, M.D.

Can I say? — GAME CHANGER! Don't overlook this book because you think you don't have back pain. Sarno’s chapters teach you about how our emotions manifest in our bodies. The book started me on a new journey of integrative health, where I learned you can't address your mental health challenges and emotional pain without also addressing your physical body. The body is a great teacher that we need to pay attention to. It's just one more reason why self-care is so important to our lives.

There are a lot of resources out there to help you better understand and deal with your mental health challenges. As a person with lived experience, the best advice that I can give you is that YOU need to play an active role in the process. If you are the one that is struggling, read the books, educate yourself, talk to therapists, and practice self-care. If you have a loved one who is struggling, then you should read the books, educate yourself, talk to a therapist, and practice self-care. That’s right. The same advice applies. Improve your situation and help others to do the same.

See more helpful articles:

Depression and Independence: Your Personal Bill of Rights

How to Keep It Together When Your World Is Falling Apart

6 Habits for Dramatically Reducing Depression