“I laughed and cried the whole way through” – the books which are good for our mental health

On World Book Day we asked which books were good for your mental health, now or at particular times of your life. The passionate responses from our volunteers and followers definitely made us want to clear some space on our bookshelves!

Any book helps me with mental health, not one specifically….”

-Ann-Marie Sharpe, Community Correspondent

Reading is great for my mental health because it takes me into another world, it takes me away from anything else going on around me, completely distracting me and I find this very useful, grounding and calming.

The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon

-Holly McCormack, Community Correspondent

This is the obvious book I could suggest, following on from my post about how the TV series helped me after my time in hospital last year. Although I’m taking my time with the books due to concentration, it takes me to an unknown exciting place and is a distraction from the reality of everyday life. On top of that, Harry Potter at any stage since I started reading them 18 years ago – those books always take me to a safe place.

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

-Lauren Ryan, Community Correspondent

I listened to this incredible audio book last year (also available as a normal book) and laughed & cried the whole way through. It’s about her experience of living with OCD. Some of it is funny but I’ve never heard of anyone writing about the extreme thoughts that sufferers can experience the way she did. It truly is an incredible book (and she’s a truly incredible person for having the courage to write it).

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

-Amanda Ptolomey @amandasays

The most positively impacted I’ve ever been by a book was reading this while my marriage ended, but that sounds so pretentious. I did eat a lot of big bags of Flaming Hot Monster Munch while I read it though. I also return to the same few books when I’m not feeling myself, they help me connect to things that matter to me – Persuasion and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – preferably with Monster Munch.

The Body Keeps Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk

-Laura McGlinn, Community Correspondent

This was definitely the book that started to unravel my CPTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and gave me the language and examples of what was going on in my whole being, from childhood to adult. It enabled me to start talking to my therapist and becoming an advocate for the movement in Scotland of being an ACE Aware Nation. I’m super proud to be part of and supporting it.

The Sunset Song Trilogy by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

-Campbell Hart @elharto

The Sunset Song books are a good example of personal progress. I’d maybe flip the question though and say that writing has been more of a positive vent than reading – very cathartic to channel emotion through other characters.

My Family & Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

-Rosie McIntosh, Mind Waves Project Manager

I’m not sure when I first read it, maybe when I was about 8 and lots of times since then. I even read it while I was in labour. You can dip in at any point and enjoy any passage or chapter. It’s about animals and sunshine and freedom and adventure, all of which appealed to me as a child. I was, and still am, fascinated by the idea of a mum just packing up and moving to Corfu with her children. It’s so spontaneous and frivolous… foolish even. It’s definitely not a self-help book and I like that. It’s about being curious and excited about the world and it’s very funny.

Also, when I’ve been really down or anxious, I’ve struggled to concentrate on reading. When I’m completely out of myself, there’s nothing that calms me down like being read a story. And isn’t it amazing that audiobooks exist for that now?

Starter for Ten by David Nicholls

-Marie Gallagher, Mind Waves Project Assistant

When I was 21 & really depressed this was the first thing to make me laugh out loud in ages! It’s about a student getting to grips with his self identity & independence. Its so funny & compassionate. It was made into a movie starring James McAvoy which I also really enjoyed.

The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks

-Michelle Carruthers, CEO Food Train

This book helped me escape to the quiet Cumbrian hills at a time when work was pretty chaotic. It made me want to get some sheep!

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

-Lynn Blair @verbisan

It’s perhaps not an obvious choice but it’s my comfort book. It’s about nature and imperfection and humanness and women. I re-read at least once a year. I’d also like to recommend a book that you write in first thing every morning. It’s not a diary or a journal, nothing as considered as that. It’s just a place to write whatever is in your head while you drink your first cup of tea. Sometimes referred to as morning pages, you write everything in your mind just as it comes out. You never re-read, edit or show anyone. It’s your brain dump, or your penseive like in Harry Potter. It helps you get it up and out the way so that you can start the day. It can be dark, nasty, hopeful, messy. The point is you don’t judge you. You just write it down and breeze into the day. It might help!

“Reading is not for everyone but, for me, it’s my escape…”

-Sydney Timmins, Founder and presenter of Mental Health Book Club Podcast

…When I am feeling low, and when I am dealing with extreme emotions, I read. I also love the fact that you can now get audio books and can listen rather than read. Sometimes this is an easier option (for me this is the only option when I am having a relapse and have double vision or optic neuritis). I wouldn’t say I have one main book. I love fantasy as it is a great escape from the real world. So, having read lots, I think the authors that spring to mind include Victoria Schwab, Garth Nix, Marissa Meyer and Victoria Aveyard. Find out more about Sydney and MHBC in this Mind Waves blog interview from last year.

Thanks to everyone who contributed their ideas. If you’d like to share which books have been good for your mental health then get in touch with us, we’d love to hear your suggestions!

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