Top 10: Books for Mental Health Week

During CMHA Mental Health Week, we #GetLoud about what mental health really is. From addiction to depression to body dysmorphia, our roundup of 10 books speak to the struggles that mental illness brings.


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In no particular order.
10. On genetics and mental illness
The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong (Arsenal Pulp Press)A 2019 Canada Reads finalist, Lindsay Wong’s The Woo-Woo is a intensely readable memoir about family and mental illness, or what’s called the Woo-Woo in Wong’s family. After receiving a rare diagnosis that forces her to consider whether she’s been touched by the Woo-Woo after all, Wong researches her family’s history with mental illness coupled with their experience as immigrants.Read our Writer’s Block interview with Lindsay Wong.
9. On addiction and recovery
About Face: Essays on Addictions, Recovery, Therapies, and Controversies, edited by Douglas Gosse (Breakwater Books)A collection that aims to broaden the conversation about the many kinds of addiction—drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, video games, gambling, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders—About Face features a diverse group of writers, including authors, experts and service providers, writing on addiction and recovery.
8. On living with mental illness
Hidden Lives, edited by Lenore Rowntree and Andrew Boden (Brindle & Glass)In 2017 when Hidden Lives was published, more than 4 million Canadians and 57 million Americans were said to suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. In a collection of personal essays that show what life is like for those living with mental illness, Hidden Lives aims to help undo the misunderstandings around illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and dissociative identity disorder.Read our Jules’ Tools for Social Change feature on Hidden Lives.
7. On depression in teenagersBlack Dog: 4 vs. the wrld by Matthew Heiti (Playwrights Canada Press)Teenage growing pains are rough enough without mental illness, but are even more overwhelming for those who suffer from clinical depression. This darkly comic but hopeful play centres on four teen outsiders struggling with both and especially death, depression, and the shadow of a black dog.Check out our Writer’s Block feature with playwright Matthew Heiti.  
6. On schizophrenia Ignite by Kevin Spenst (Anvil Press)In his collection of experimental poetry, poet Kevin Spenst merges memory and his family medical records to recreate his father’s life growing up in a strict Mennonite family, struggling with schizophrenia, spending three decades in and out of mental institutions, and undergoing electric shock treatment.
5. On anorexia
Small Displays of Chaos by Breanna Fischer (Coteau Books)In this debut YA novel, anorexia interrupts 17-year-old Rayanne Timko’s final year of high school – a year that is often about friends and excited anticipation for the future. As author Breanna Fischer puts it in our Under the Cover feature, “Small Displays of Chaos isn’t a book about eating disorders. It’s about a girl, who has a family and friends and hobbies that pull at her heart, and what happens when her life is interrupted by mental illness.” 
On agoraphobiaThe Outside World by Barry Dempster (Pedlar Press)In this A Complicated Kindness-esque coming-of-age story set in 1960s Toronto, a teenager who lives with an agoraphobic mother and mentally challenged sister, must learn to balance caring for his family and being a teenager against a conservative 1950s mainstream.
3. On Charles Mingus and mental health
A Mingus Lullaby by Dane Swan (Guernica Editions)Revered composer and jazz musician Charles Mingus suffered from mental illness and spent time in mental institutions throughout his life. In Dane Swan’s collection of poetry, the life and art of Mingus is captured in a series of poems about notable moments, songs, and performances.
2. On depression and suicide
Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live by Ray Robertson (Biblioasis)Said best by The Globe and Mail in 2011, Why Not? is among “five Canadian books you may not necessarily hear much about,” but which “should be on reading radars everywhere.” In it, Robertson who suffered a depression of suicidal intensity and recovered, sets out with two questions in mind: What makes humans happy? And what makes a life worth living? 
1. On body dysmorphia
The Death Scene Artist by Andrew Wilmot (Wolsak and Wynn)A compelling three-act surrealist spectacle, The Death Scene Artist explores the obsessive nature of body dysmorphia, a condition in which you’re hyper-focused on perceived flaws in your appearance. In Wilmot’s wild-ride of a novel, the narrator’s body dysmorphia results in them filling their closet with “sleeves” created from the skins of unsuspecting women. Read our First Fiction Friday for more about the book.* * *For more Top 10, click here.