10 Lesser-Known Books That Talk About Mental Illnesses


Gone are the days when we looked down upon people with depression, anorexia, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

Today, scholars, medical practitioners, and researchers are putting in a lot of work to understand and treat these problems. It is because of their efforts that we now know how to deal with them and help other people who struggle with them.

From these bodies of scholarly work, fictional tales were woven by talented authors. These stories tell us about the realities and causes of mental illness, even if we don’t pick up big science books.

These books come in different genres – including contemporary, young adult, historical fiction, and others. Among the many, here is a list of good books that talk about mental illnesses:

1. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Wintergirls revolves on the story of two girls – best friends – who are battling different eating disorders. Cassie was dealing with bulimia, while Lia was struggling with anorexia. Unlike most friends, however, they share a very toxic relationship and is always competing to be the skinniest girl. One day, Cassie was found dead in a hotel and Lia finds out that Cassie called her 35 times before she died. Now Lia has to face a great battle with her mind – dealing with her eating disorder and the guilt she feels for not answering her phone on the night that her friend died.

2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch is constantly thinking of ways to kill himself. Violet Markey is itching to start her own life in a different city after graduation. When they meet on a ledge of a bell tower for the first time, they hit it off as friends and embark on a journey to discover the natural wonders of Indiana. As they spend time together, they found out that they enjoy each other’s company and start learning more about life from someone with a completely different perspective. 

3. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Florence Nightingale effect happens when a caregiver or doctor starts to have romantic feelings for their patients. This is the case for husband and wife Dick and Nicole Driver. Dick, a doctor, marries his patient, Nicole, believing this will give emotional stability to the rich heiress. Soon after their marriage, Dick meets Rosemary Hoyt while touring Europe with his wife and engages in an affair. 

4. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by Hannah Green, Joanne Greenberg

A probing into the power of the mind, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden is a tale of a teenager named Deborah Blau. She is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and is going through therapy. The book chronicles her 3-year journey of talking to professionals who want to help her and imaginary creatures who want her dead.

5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda, like any other teenager, just wants to get on with high school and move on. She has always felt alone in school. None of her classmates like her because she ruined a school-ender party by calling the cops. Ever since that day, she keeps to herself and struggles with her secrets. It is only through her art that these secrets are revealed – including a rape incident that happened on the very night of the party that changed her life.

7. Paperweight by Meg Haston
Stevie feels trapped in the eating disorder treatment facility her father has put her in. She has lost all motivation to live and has been avoiding food ever since her brother, Josh, died because of her. As professionals and her family try to help her deal with her problem, she devises a plan to end her life on the anniversary of Josh’s death.

8. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Alex is a simple girl who is trying to survive her teenage years, just like everybody else. But, one thing sets her apart – she is struggling with schizophrenia and is constantly trying to figure out which parts of her life are real and which ones are delusions. She learned to live with this and everything was fine, until Miles comes along and has her questioning an event in her life that caused her to be diagnosed with the illness.

9. Hate List by Jennifer Brown

High school couple Nick and Valerie made a list of the things and people they hate. Val thought that the list was nothing but some scribbles on paper. But, one day, Nick came to school with a gun and started shooting people in the cafeteria – people who were on their list. Nick dies during the incident, but Val was forced to live with the consequences of the shooting incident with almost no friends and rough relationships with her family.

9. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Mental retardation is keeping Charlie from growing as a person. As he tries to find a cure, he comes across Algernon, an intellectually enhanced lab rat who has undergone a revolutionary treatment that can be applied to humans. Desperate to change the state he’s in, Charlie willingly submits to the surgery. He begins to see positive results – an increasing IQ that allows him to surpass the smarts of doctors who treated him. As he enjoys the wonderful results of his operation, he discovers that Algernon’s health is slowly deteriorating. Apparently, time is ticking for Charlie and he struggles to make the most of the life he has only dreamed of. 

10. Recovery Road by Blake Nelson

Madeline has problems with controlling her anger and her intake of alcoholic drinks. Because of these, she is sent to Spring Meadows for rehab. The book chronicles her journey to recovery – how she is dealing with her issues and how the new people she meets during her stay in the facility can change the course of her life.


  1. I love this post. Thank you for sharing! :)

  2. LOVED "All the Bright Places". Have just added a bunch of these to my wishlist! Thanks for the recommendations. :)

  3. All these sound so interesting!! I want to read Wintergirls now!!

  4. I love book reviews and will have to add Wintergirls to my list!!

  5. Tender is the night" is probably one of the most underrated works of Fitzgerald... A truly incredible piece in my opinion and I absolutely recommend it. Glad to see it on your list ;)

  6. I am not sure I have ever heard of any of these books, except for Tender is the Night that I have read and loved. Thanks for sharing all these titles! I'll check them out and add them to my reading list!

  7. I'm glad that more and more people are doing their best to raise awareness on mental illness. It's not something that society takes seriously. I'm honestly exhausted of hearing, "oh you're just being overly dramatic". These books should help people understand mental illness better.

  8. I think I have read speak in HS! I know I have definitely heard of Paper Weight before ut I don't think I have ever read it. This is a good selection of books and I am sure they can really help others deal or understand.

  9. These reads are so intense. Do you have any suggestions for inspiring ones?

  10. I didn't know for any of these! I agree with ourcookery, do you have suggestions for inspiring ones?

  11. Flowers for Algernon is one of my top 10 books. I loved my time working with special needs individuals. I plan to go back once both my young kids start school.

  12. Awesome books, i only have the All the Bright Places book which i'm about to finish. I will make the rest in my book collection, thank you for the share though!

  13. I love the selection adding these titles to my 2018 reading list.

  14. Such a great book like. I love that all those books bring awareness to mental illnesses... such an important topic.

  15. This is such a powerful list. I've only read 2 of them but I'm looking forward to looking into the rest of them. :)

  16. This is a great list you've put together. So many people still don't understand this issue, and it's a growing issue in our world for sure. Thanks for highlighting it.

  17. Out of these 10 books, which will be your top 3 recommendations? I thought it would be good to hear that from you, as I might not have time to read them all!

  18. Paperweight sounds so very interesting. I'm going to add it to my Audible list.