Books about Mental Health: Staff Picks for the 2019 Reading Challenge

January 29, 2019 | Book Buzz

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Are you taking our 2019 Reading Challenge? Many staff members across our 100 branches are participating, and recently we asked them what their picks and recommendations are for "A book about mental health". We received a mix of answers, including children's books, young adult and adult books. Here are some of their responses.

If you have already read a book about mental health, all of these books can be used for "A book recommended to you by library staff". We've also included other categories these books could be used for.

Children's Books


Sheilah's recommendation: OCDaniel by Wesley King. Recommended for age 11 and up.

Why did Sheilah pick it?

"An excellent book on OCD is OCDaniel by Wesley King. King also has this illness. It is children's fiction, but Daniel is 13 and I do believe that anyone would enjoy it. Certainly every member of the awards team I am on, loved it and every child we spoke to at The Forest of Reading also loved it. Part of what makes this such a riveting read is that Daniel has no idea that what is wrong with him, has a name. That he is not the only one. It takes a classmate with mental health issues of her own, to recognize and name what is wrong. Until then, you suffer along with Daniel as he strives to act normal around other people while hiding his problem."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A book from a Canadian award-winning author.


Recommended by Lauren: Bubbles by Abby Cooper. Recommended for age 9 and up.

Why did Lauren pick it?

"This book is about a 12-year-old girl named Sophie, who develops the ability to see people's thoughts above their heads in thought bubbles. Sophie uses the bubbles to navigate her own anxiety, and to try to understand and help her mother who is suffering from depression. I think this book is very well written and fun, while still discussing the important topic of mental health – for both children and adults."

Young Adult Books

Turtles all the way down

Amy's recommendation: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. Recommended for readers age 13 and up.

Why did Amy pick it?

"I read it last year and loved it. I found that Turtles was a great depiction of what it's like to live with OCD, anxiety and intrusive thoughts. It's also important to know than John Green himself has these illnesses, and the book reflects his experiences as a child and teen. It's a good book for building empathy for those whose struggles we may not always see or recognize."

What other categories could you use it for?


Anna's recommendation: Sparrow by Sarah Moon. Recommended for age 12 and up.

Why did Anna pick it?

"The author does an excellent job of capturing and conveying the isolation people sometimes feel. I also liked that this story included the help of a therapist, something that frequently carries a lot of stigma."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A book by an LGBTQ+ author.

10 things I can see from here

Kara's recommendation: 10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac. Recommended for age 13 and up.

Why did Kara pick it?

"Maeve deals with her anxiety pretty well she thinks, until her mother announces she is leaving on a trip and Maeve is being sent to Vancouver to live with her dad, stepmother and two younger brothers. New home, new environment, new family, Maeve is not happy. Her father is a recovering alcoholic, her stepmother is pregnant and her two younger brothers are, well, kids. There is a lovely healthy LGBTQIA+ relationship involving Maeve and Salix, and I loved the portrayal of family in this one. You had no doubt Maeve's parents loved her, but you could not ignore the issues they all had to deal with very openly as well. I appreciated the honesty in the portrayal of this perfect-imperfect family."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A book from a Canadian award-winning author.
  • A book by an LGBTQ+ author.

Eliza and her monsters

Chelsea's recommendation: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. Recommended for age 13 and up.

Why did Chelsea pick it?

"I read it last year. It's the story of high school student Eliza, who is secretly the anonymous creator of a wildly popular webcomic, but who has trouble making friends offline because of her crippling social anxiety. Eliza and Her Monsters depicts Eliza's struggles with anxiety and depression in a very honest and sympathetic way, including the crushing weight of expectation she feels from the webcomic's online fandom, the panic attacks she suffers as a result, and how mental illness affects her creativity. I also loved how Eliza and Her Monsters both celebrates fandom culture, but also encourages fans to take a step back and think critically about how we, as consumers, are owed nothing, and the mental health of the creator must come first."

All that I can fix

Alice's first recommendation: All that I Can Fix by Crystal Chan. Recommended for age 13 and up.

Past tense

Alice's second recommendation: Past Tense by Star Spider. Recommended for age 13 and up.

Why did Alice pick them?

"I liked both All That I Can Fix and Past Tense for showing how one person's mental health affects others. In both of these books, a central teen character is holding things together while a parent is is struggling with poor mental health. The teens' feelings about it are pretty authentic, and this could be a great thing for other teens to be able to read, particularly if it reflects their own experience and can show them they are not alone in this."

What other categories could you use Past Tense for?

  • A book by an LGBTQ+ author.

Adult Books

Autism in heels

Katherine's pick: Autism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum by Jennifer O'Toole.

Why did Katherine pick it?

"Jennifer describes how her mental health improved once she reached her 30's, had children and a husband on the spectrum and realized she too was on the spectrum. This is an insightful look at how the mental health of women is damaged due to misdiagnosis or under-diagnosis. Although this is her personal story there are scientific facts to support her claim."

Gorilla and the bird

Antonia's recommendation: Gorilla and the Bird by Zack McDermott.

Why did Antonia pick it?

"The author suffers from bipolar disorder and talks about his life, being institutionalized and how supportive his mother is. Well-paced and concisely written, the author provides a first-person account of manic episodes and how out of control your train of thought and inhibitions are. He also looks at the poor state of the mental healthcare system and reinforces the importance of a strong social network in successfully living with bipolar disorder."

The miracle morning

Maria's recommendation: The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod.

Why did Maria pick it?

"It has a 6-step morning routine for optimal well-being, which I've found life-changing. For me, it's increased joy, productivity, and life focus. But there are tons of testimonials on how this book helped people beat addiction and depression, too. There is also a version specifically for teens, specifically for families, etc. It's important to note that although the word "miracle" is in the title, the book makes no mention of religion."

How can i help

Alison's recommendation: How Can I Help? A Week in My Life as a Psychiatrist by David S. Goldbloom and Pier Bryden.

Why did Alison pick it?

"I read this as part of the 2017 Evergreen Award list. It gives a look at the challenges mental health professionals face while trying to help others."

The Kevin Show

Margaret's Recommendation: The Kevin Show by Mary Pilon.

Why did Margaret pick it?

"The Kevin Show by Mary Pilon really stuck with me. It's a profile of an Olympic class sailor who has been diagnosed with a type of schizophrenia called The Truman Show delusion. When he's having an episode, he believes that he's the centre of a televison broadcast and there's a director controlling his actions. Not only did Pilon have access to Kevin Hall but to his friends and family and they're very open about how Kevin's condition has impacted their own lives – at one point he tried to drive off a bridge with his girlfriend inside.

And one of the things that I was aware of while reading, is how Kevin – an attractive, privileged, white man – was treated by police, social workers, the judicial system versus the treatment that would have been given to a person of colour exhibiting the same symptoms."

Heart berries

Brenda's recommendation: Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot.

Why did Brenda pick it?

"The author is from the Seabird Island Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. This short, poetic, brutally honest, memoir is unlike any other I have read. Mailhot wrote the book after she had a mental breakdown and was committed to a mental institution. The book is not a straightforward narrative, more like short stories from different parts of her life, some when she is well and strong, other parts when she is struggling and you can feel her madness. A stunning book, I had a hard time putting it down at the same time I wanted to read it slowly as parts are sheer poetry."

My lesbian experience with loneliness

Myrna's recommendation: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata.

Why did Myrna pick it?

"I read it back in 2017 when it was released in translation. This work could fit a number of categories, LGBTQ+ author, translation, graphic novel, etc., but I think part of what is so meaningful about this manga is how it interweaves the creator's struggles with depression and journey coming to terms with her sexuality. Unlike some memoirs about mental health or sexuality, this manga doesn't end with everything wrapped up into a neat package."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A graphic novel.
  • A book by an LGBTQ+ author.
  • A book in translation.

Hyperbole and a half

Nalini's recommendation: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened by Allie Brosh.

Why did Nalini pick it?

"Read it a few years ago, loved it. Gave it 5 stars on goodreads. This book is hilarious. The author spoke about depression in a relatable way. I don't usually read graphic novels, but adored her use of illustrations to depict her life."

What other categories could you use it for?

  • A graphic novel.

Other Staff Recommendations

We have many more books that staff members suggested for this list, and several staff members recommended the same titles. So here are a few more!

Books from the Facebook Discussion Group

Here are a few titles that members of our Facebook discussion group are reading or recommending for this challenge category:

We have received – and continue to receive – so many amazing suggestions. We encourage you to read the full suggestion thread and contribute your own favourite titles. You don't need a Facebook account to view the thread, although you do need one to add your own.

Other Reading Lists on Mental Health

What are your picks and recommendations? You can share in the comments below.