5 Memoirs About Mental Illness

Mental Illness Memoirs You Should Read Right Now

  • Darkness Visible, by William Styron
  • Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen
  • Prozac Nation, by Elizabeth Wurtzel
  • Running With Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs
  • An Unquiet Mind, by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison

Are there any good memoirs about mental illness? This is a question many people are asking, especially as mental illness makes its way into the gun debate and other areas of public concern. From depression to suicide attempts, here are five of the best mental illness memoirs to pick up today.

1. Darkness Visible, By William Styron

One of the most thought-provoking memoirs on this list is Darkness Visible, which was penned by William Styron. Styron is best known as the author of Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner, but the revelation that he had depression shocked him, even when he was in his 60s. Tyron embarked on writing the memoir, connecting the dots for us about how his alcohol and prescription pill abuse led to the revelation; he also discusses how self-analysis after his diagnosis was necessary. The memoir is a reflective work, which is visible in Tyron’s analysis of himself along with other literary greats who also suffered from mental illness.

2. Girl, Interrupted, By Susanna Kaysen

A popular mental illness memoir is Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen, which was famously made into a film starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. In the memoir, Kaysen details her psychiatric hospital stay at the tender age of 18. Her diagnosis of borderline personality disorder led to the stint, and throughout her memoir, Kaysen takes the time to detail the nuances of her disorder as well as how the stint affected her mentally. She also takes time to critique the mental health care system as it stands, making it a great read for mental health professionals and individuals alike.

3. Prozac Nation, By Elizabeth Wurtzel

A memoir about depression that continues to hold up, even after nearly 20 years on the market, is Prozac Nation, by American novelist and writer Elizabeth Wurtzel. Wurtzel’s book, written when she was just 24, details her depression, suicide attempt, and substance abuse after having been abandoned by her father at a young age. Wurtzel, who obtained a juris doctor from Yale after the publication of the book, went on to write two other memoirs in the same vein. The book is written in a frank and candid way, ensuring that readers get a glimpse at how Wurtzel felt during her darkest days; it is this perspective that makes it a top pick for mental illness memoirs to read.

4. Running With Scissors, By Augusten Burroughs

Made into a film in 2006, Running with Scissors, is a memoir based on Burroughs’ account of his teenage years. The story begins with Burroughs’ mother bizarrely making the choice to put her son into the care of her psychiatrist, which leads him to uncover a whole new world of mental illness, complete with different quirks and disturbing encounters. Several different types of mental illness make an appearance in the books, including schizophrenia, delusions, and more. This is an important book that will make every reader realize that the grass is not always greener on the other side; some mental illnesses are just better kept hidden.

5. An Unquiet Mind, By Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison

This is a memoir about mental illness that really should be on the top of everyone’s “to read” list. Written by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, the memoir bears distinction because Jamison is not only a psychiatrist, she is also bipolar. This book is written from the perspective of a psychiatrist who understands both the patient and the psychiatrist points of view when it comes to mental illness. Weaving her narrative through real-life events, such as episodes of violence, a suicide attempt, and other situations, Jamison endeavors to paint a picture of mental illness that is at once sobering and powerful.

Mental illness does not have to, and indeed doesn’t, hinder people from living a full life. Each of these books demonstrates this quite well. In each memoir, care is taken to showcase both the highs and lows of living with the conditions listed; it is what makes them important reads, even decades after their publications. With these five memoirs about mental illness in hand, anyone can understand living with these conditions just a little bit better.