Mental illness is incredibly common; One in five adults in the US experiences mental illness in a given year and one in 25 adults live with a mental illness that gravely interferes with their daily life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. Unfortunately in popular culture, mental illness is often either romanticized, severely dramatized, or treated in dry, clinical, or overly-pessimistic tones.
In honor of May being Mental Health Month, we’ve compiled a short list of books examining what it means to live with a mental illness. The following five books, ranging from fictional to biographical, cover the topic with nuance, wit and—yes—humor. Because sometimes moments of levity appear in unexpected places.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson’s latest book examines her experiences living with severe depression and other mental health conditions that she believes have helped her live more fully. But don’t expect any heart-wrenching anecdotes here. Lawson’s made a name for herself as a comedian and she approaches the subject of depression and anxiety with a refreshing, bawdy candor. As oneGoodreads reviewer wrote, reading Lawson’s writing is like peering into an open diary: “sometimes you just have to look away, but I always find myself looking back.”
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought by David Adam
The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is part-memoir, part-research study. David Adam writes about his experience living with obsessive compulsive disorder for 20 years, while also diving into the science and research behind one of the most commonly-misunderstood disorders of our time. Contrary to popular belief, OCD doesn’t mean that you’re particularly neat or like things “a certain way.” Rather, it’s a set of intrusive thoughts and compulsive actions that can interfere with your daily life. Goodreads reviewers praised the book for its straightforward and non-judgmental approach to the subject.
The Silver Linings Playbook: A Novel by Matthew Quick
This is the book behind the 2012 movie of the same name, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. In case you haven’t seen the film, the story centers on Pat, who has recently been released from a psychiatric facility. He’s focused on winning back his ex-wife, which he thinks he’ll be able to do by being perpetually optimistic, no matter what. It’s a quirky novel that touches on more than just mental health.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
You might recognize Allie Brosh as the comic artist and writer behind the popular blog, Hyperbole and a Half, where she uses the old-school paintbrush tool to draw some pretty hilarious comics. In recounting her experience living with depression, Brosh relies on the same zany, relatable tone she’s known for. Fans might recognize some of Brosh’s stories from her blog, but there are plenty of new ones to round out the Gates called it “funny and smart as hell.”
First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety by Sarah Wilson
Sarah Wilson is a journalist and entrepreneur who stumbled upon a Chinese proverb while reading An Unquiet Mind, Kay Redfield Jamison’s memoir of living with bipolar disorder. The proverb? To conquer a beast, you must first make it beautiful.Those words inspired Wilson, who’s struggled with anxiety for years, to approach her condition in a positive light. Expect lots of advice and practical tips on how to you can manage your own anxiety and make peace with it.