The World of Literature on Mental Health: Part One.

Welcome back: Our previous article briefly looked into the World of literature on mental health. We considered the early inclusion of mental health literature available to our young minds by viewing Christopher Robin’s friends and his mental state of mind. Leaving the door open for discussion concerning his imaginary friendship was either a coping mechanism or schizophrenia.


Then, to whet your appetite, I introduced you to some stars in this field of work. One example was the Yellow Wallpaper (1892). This was a personal view of a woman suffering from post-partum depression and the treatment that she received through a series of diary entries.

The woman’s condition deteriorates, but all the while, her illness is trivialised by the people around her, including her own husband, John, who also happens to be her doctor—inferring that the intent behind each type of literature is relevant in determining how mental health is portrayed. 

One of the most impactful aspects of literature is its ability to validate individual experiences. Society often stigmatises or misunderstands mental health conditions, leaving many people isolated by fear or ignorance and invalidated.

An emerging field known as bibliotherapy utilises books specifically chosen to address various psychological needs. Bibliotherapy involves guided reading recommended by professionals such as therapists or librarians who curate personalised book lists tailored to individual interests or concerns.

By engaging with literary works designed explicitly for healing purposes — whether it be self-help guides aimed at reducing stress levels like “The Relaxation Response” by Herbert Benson or memoirs depicting triumph over trauma like “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed — individuals can benefit from the therapeutic power of literature and enhance their well-being.

Likewise, a form of creative bibliotherapy has been observed in photography, and it has been suggested as a powerful tool for conveying emotion and channels for self-expression. Photography can be more than a hobby by addressing someone’s desires or issues like loneliness and anxiety.

The camera can capture the moment when you are physically in the moment during your mindfulness period or out in nature, forest bathing

The possibilities for this are endless: you can focus the lens and mind by engaging your senses and fully immersing yourself in the forest surroundings, from insects to animals down to the current Autumn colours or future spring and Summer blossoms. 

Remember to take deep breaths to inhale the natural aromas, listen to the sounds of the forest, and observe the rich colours and textures of the environment. Sounds absolutely idyllic.

Fiction or non-fiction literature, which one is best to learn about mental health.

When it comes to learning about mental health, both fiction and non-fiction literature can be valuable resources.

Non-fiction literature, such as self-help books and scientific research, provides factual information, explanations, and strategies for managing mental health problems.  They offer insights from professionals and individuals with personal experiences, providing a sense of credibility. 

On the other hand, fiction literature can offer a unique perspective on mental health by exploring characters’ inner thoughts and emotions. 

It allows readers to empathise and connect with the struggles and triumphs of fictional individuals, which can foster understanding and compassion. Fiction can also provide a safe space for readers to explore complex emotions and experiences that they may not be ready or able to confront in real life.

Fiction can also add an element of entertainment that medical books often lack. While this can be seen as a benefit, as it allows readers to engage with the subject in a more enjoyable and relatable way, it can also be viewed as a drawback, depending on one’s perspective on mental health.

Some may argue that fictional portrayals of mental health can perpetuate stereotypes and misconceptions, potentially leading to further stigmatisation. However, others may claim that fiction can provide a means for individuals to empathise with and understand the experiences of those struggling with mental health issues.

However, there is the issue of romanticising mental health in literature or portraying it inaccurately with supernatural elements.  Ultimately, the impact of fiction on mental health perceptions will vary depending on individual viewpoints and experiences.

Yet, both genres have their merits and can contribute to a comprehensive understanding of mental health.

Finding Comfort in Books that Address Mental Health Struggles

  1. "The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath: This classic novel delves into the protagonist's battle with mental illness, offering a raw and honest portrayal of depression and anxiety. Plath's poetic writing style allows readers to immerse themselves in the character's emotions, bringing forth a sense of empathy and understanding.
  2. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky: Through the eyes of Charlie, an introverted teenager struggling with mental health issues, this coming-of-age story explores themes such as trauma, loneliness, and recovery. The book sheds light on the importance of support systems and finding solace in art and literature.
  3. "Reasons to Stay Alive" by Matt Haig: Haig candidly shares his personal experiences with depression while providing insight into the complexities of mental health struggles. With simple yet profound language, he offers hope and encouragement to those who may be suffering from similar challenges.

These books not only provide comfort for individuals grappling with their own mental health battles but also help raise awareness about these issues among a wider audience. Through storytelling techniques that evoke compassion, these authors contribute to reducing stigma surrounding mental illnesses.

Nurturing Emotional Wellness: The Role of Literature in Promoting Mental Health

Literature has the ability to profoundly impact our emotional well-being. Through stories, poetry, and memoirs, literature offers a space for individuals to explore their own emotions and experiences. It can provide comfort and solace during times of stress or sadness, offering a sense of companionship in knowing that others have gone through similar struggles.

Reading literature also allows us to step into the shoes of different characters and gain insights into their perspectives, fostering empathy and understanding. This increased empathy can lead to improved communication skills, as we become more attuned to the emotions and needs of those around us. In turn, this enhanced emotional intelligence can contribute positively to our mental health.

Alternatively, literature can serve as a form of self-reflection therapy. By identifying with characters who face similar challenges, readers may find validation in their own experiences. This recognition creates an opportunity for personal growth, as it encourages individuals to confront their emotions head-on and develop coping mechanisms.

Key points on how literature promotes mental wellness:
  • Literature provides comfort by reminding readers they are not alone in their struggles.
  • Reading exposes readers to various perspectives, promoting empathy.
  • Identifying with literary characters facilitates self-reflection therapy.
  • Literature expands vocabulary related to feelings and mental health discussions.
  • Engaging with literature stimulates creativity, which enhances overall well-being.

By recognising the power that literature holds over our emotional wellness, we can use it intentionally as a tool for promoting mental health.

From novels that depict resilience amidst adversity or memoirs capturing personal triumphs over mental illness – books offer insight into human nature while providing hope for those facing challenging circumstances.

Furthermore, by immersing oneself in stories about overcoming adversity or finding resilience despite mental illnesses like bipolar disorder (as depicted beautifully by Pat Conroy's character Tom Wingo), individuals may gain hope that they too can overcome their own challenges. 

Let's embrace the transformative power of literature in nurturing our emotional well-being today.

In conclusion: In this series, we have explored how literature can positively impact our emotional health and started to provide recommendations for books that can serve as therapeutic tools. 

We aim to develop this further, offering realistic portrayals of human experiences that validate our own struggles.

We, therefore, invite you to dive into this enlightening exploration to discover the immense potential literature holds in improving our lives.  Thank you for being so supportive.