3 Things I Learned from Reading Books about Mental Illness

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DISCLAIMER

I am nervous of writing this post because I never experienced it first hand and afraid that I’ll end up offending someone out there. I try being as sensitive and objective as possible but if any of you find anything I say offensive or condescending in any way, I am so sorry and please let me know where I do wrong 🙂

A few years ago, I would’ve felt uncomfortable reading books about mental illness. I used to feel… uneasy. I couldn’t pin point my exact reasons, but one of them was probably because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. I never experienced it first hand. No, not even second or third hand or anything. I didn’t know anyone with mental illness in real life.

The closest to it was probably this homeless person who used to walk around in his underwear around my grandma’s neighborhood. People in the neighborhood called him crazy. Words on the street said that his wife left him for other guy and he’s been ‘crazy’ ever since. For a long time, that’s the only thing  I knew about mental illness, that people with mental illness were crazy and I didn’t want to be anywhere near them. But it was over 10 years ago and throughout these years I’ve learned a lot of important lessons that have changed my perspective about that person and people with MI in general.

After high school, I planned to study journalism because I love writing and wanted to make a career out of it. My guidance counselor didn’t approve of my choice because she said it’d be harder for a science student to get accepted into social program. Call it fate or destiny or anything you want, but I ended up studying psychology 😂 At first I resented it so much, but then I started falling in love with the subjects and it ended up being one of the best decision I’ve ever made in my life ♥

I learned A LOT as a psychology student. I’m not gonna go into details because it would be a hell of a long post if I started explaining 4-years worth of study, but I’m gonna tell you this. I learned so hard to disarm my prejudice towards mental illness. I knew at some points, I’m gonna have to deal with it and I didn’t want my judgement to be clouded by some misguided stereotypes. So I learned everything on the books. The symptoms, the cases, the treatments, we even watched some movies about it and I think I still memorized most of them.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably remember that a few months ago I wrote a discussion about mental health issue in young adult fiction and I’ve been making conscious effort to read books with mental illness ever since. Funny thing is, I learned more about mental illness through fiction books than I ever could from my psychology textbooks 😂 I mean, not the symptoms or anything, but mental illness in real life.

Let’s get to it!

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Mental Health is A Continuum

The first lesson I learned on my abnormal psychology class was that there are gray areas in the determination of mental health problems. There’s no clear line between normal and abnormal and all psychological problems fall along a continuum. But somewhere along the way, I seemed to forget this first and most important lesson. I began looking at mental illness as a series of symptoms. I’m not sure why but all I remember was extreme cases. I learned about people with extreme case of mental disorder who couldn’t function properly and need assistance and I forgot that there is a continuum. 

Books with mental illness remind me of this. They remind me that it’s not all black and white and mental illness is all around us. It’s not that rare and extreme. I mean, yes, there are a lot of extreme cases, but most people with mental illness aren’t as far from ‘normal’ as I used to think… whatever does normal mean. They’re probably slightly different, but different doesn’t always mean a bad thing.

Looking Beyond the Symptoms 

When I was in school, we looked at people with mental illness by looking at their symptoms and comparing them to the symptoms listed by the DSM. I didn’t realize how confining it was until I started reading books dealing with mental illness. When I read books from their perspectives, I am in their head. I see the world from their point of view and I learned to understand that a person shouldn’t be defined only by his/her mental condition. I learned that there’s always more to a person than mental health, a simple fact that is often overlooked by many people.

That being said, I started to see people as they are. I see them as a teenager, as a student, a part of a family, and a… person. I broke down this invisible wall I built in my head that used to separate people with mental illness from those without. I realized that the gray area is so much bigger than I thought and finally started seeing people as people.

I Might Want to be A Clinical Psychologist

Pretty much everyone who went to school with me know that I had no intention whatsoever to become a psychologist. This is partly because I don’t want to work on extreme cases and partly because I’m not really good at individual counseling session. I’d rather facilitate a group of 20 than be on a one-on-one session 😂 I’ve done this a lot and it was awkward. All I wanted to do was to work office hour as an HR officer or something.

For the first time in my life, I started to reconsider my plan. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I actually–sort of, want to be a clinical psychologist. I want to help people and I think this is one way I could actually do it. I’m not making any decision right now, I still have a few years to figure out what I want to study in grad school but I’m seriously taking this into consideration 🙈

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As I said above, I’ve been making effort to read as many books dealing with mental illness as possible for a while. During my reading journey, I’ve found A LOT of great books and some of the not-so-great ones 🙈 that being said, I’m confident enough to make a recommendation post based on the type of illness! Make sure you stay tuned for the post around the next few weeks ♥

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LET’S TALK! Do you like to read books about mental illness? Or do you feel uneasy like I used to? If you like to, what have you learned from it? Also, I’m looking for more books dealing with 1) dissociative disorders (i.e. multiple personality disorder) and 2) personality disorders, so shoot me your favorite books! Preferably YA but I’m open to anything 😀

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51 thoughts on “3 Things I Learned from Reading Books about Mental Illness

  1. Ah, reading this made me realize that I don’t read very many books dealing with characters with mental illnesses! I’m glad to see that fiction has helped you learn more about something you didn’t know much about. I’ve learned lots of things by reading great books. 😄

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  2. This was such a true and honest post Puput! I love you for posting this 🙂 Mental illness is regarded as something which is unnatural and horrible, and some opinions of such people are getting fixed, but I think we need to make a change in our world. And again, we need as much diversity as possible in books! 🙂

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  3. Thank you for being so honest, and for wanting to read more books including characters with mental health issues. However, as someone with mental health issues, this post also made me a bit sad. Especially the intro, where you talk about this guy in your grandmothers neighborhood. The thing is, the word ‘crazy’ is probably my most hated word regarding mental health. Being seen as ‘crazy’ and ‘different’ isn’t fun, and seeing this thing happening to other people again and again sucks.
    But you are right, people with mental illnesses are people (but I think that goes without saying). Just because I deal with anxiety, doesn’t mean that I’m not just as human as you are.

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    • I’m so sorry my post made you feel that way 😦 I was describing something that happened a long time ago & the way I used to think but no longer do. Throughout the years I’ve learned a lot of important things that have changed my perspective for what I hope a better one. But is there anything I could change from my post to make it better & less offensive? Again, I am very sorry I made you feel sad 😦

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      • I’m so glad your perspective has changed! I’m okay, don’t worry 🙂 Maybe you could say that your view of that person has changed in that same paragraph, to make it a bit less painful? Would very much appreciate it! And thank you for listening and caring about what I have to say ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s done! Do you mind reading said paragraph again and tell me what you think about it? 😊 of course! Thank you so much for telling me how you feel and not doing it in a hostile way because I was actually REALLY nervous about getting backlash from writing this 😂😂 I mean, I generally feel nervous every time I write something that I never personally experience hahaha

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          • I think it’s a lot better, thank you!! And I understand, but getting backlash is understandable too. A person’s ignorant words can really hurt someone, and that’s just not okay. I used to be extremely nervous to post about my MH, but luckily I’ve learned to be very open about it 🙂

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            • You’re welcome 💕 I agree, but it’a traumatizing to get brutally backlashed when it really was an honest mistake hehe but it’s true that we all NEED to be careful of our words 😊 ahh so glad to hear that about you! Thank you for letting me know where I did wrong and once again I’m so sorry 😊❤

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  4. I think you wrote really sensitively! I’ve got mental health problems myself (whoo, depression and anxiety) but I completely understand why you would feel uneasy at first. I felt uneasy too, because I had somehow internalised the idea that even in fiction, people aren’t supposed to talk about things like that. (Of course, now I realise what bullshit that is.)

    What I really learned from reading more books about mental illness is how useless the DSM can be, most of the time! I kept trying to fit my symptoms and experiences into one diagnosis/definition. I think a lot of books are good at talking about the fact that not everyone has ‘textbook’ symptoms, and that people have different ways of dealing with their mental illness. (Although I would love more books like ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ that talk about medication in a non-judgemental way, because YES!)

    I can’t wait to read your recommendation post! I want 2017 to be my year of reading about mental health and neurodiversity 🙂

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    • Thank you, I’m SO GLAD you thought so 😅 I know righttt the society always makes it sound like an unnatural things and that is exactly why people who don’t experience/read/learn about it are still caught up in the same stigma 😦 ahh yes! Books taught me that no mental illness case is the same and we should probably stop trying to catalog things hehe

      Thank you! It will be up sometimes in the next few weeks as I’m still trying to read more and waiting for recommendations from others 😀

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  5. I’m a psychology student too and I have to say that while we learn a lot about mental illness as psychology students, there’s so much that can’t be taught through textbooks and lectures. I completely agree with what you’ve said and I really do think fictional books that talk about mental health issues do a great job of bridging the gap between scientific and personal knowledge about mental illnesses and showing people with mental illnesses as more than just a list of symptoms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yayyy it’ll be up in the next few weeks as I’m still trying to read more and waiting for recommendations from others 😀 but yes!! It’s so good that fiction books had helped so many of us understand more about mental health (and other taboo things) but we definitely need more of it ❤

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  6. Reading about mental illness is really important to me, so I really loved that you created this post. I feel like it is often seen in black and white far too often and I am glad that through books this perception has changed for you. Two ya books I read recently that feature mental illness are A tragic kind of wonderful by Eric Lindstrom and The weight of zero by Karen Fortunati that both oddly enough feature bipolar disorder. They both deal with the mental illness really well and make the stigma of bipolar disorder more human.

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    • Thank you so much, I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂 EXACTLY! Like even *I* who learned it extensively still got caught up in this black and white areas, I’m so thankful and glad that fiction books had helped me see things more clearly. Ahh I have The Weight of Zero as an ebook and planned to read it before I post the recommendation post, also I’ve added A Tragic Kind of Wonderful to my TBR! Thank you for the recommendations ❤

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  7. Great insightful post! I think it’s important that mental ilnesses are represented in books (and of course represented correctly) and I’m still learning about it myself. I am trying to read more books dealing with this topic in the future, definitely always looking for recommendations as well.

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  8. Oh I totally understand this!! I’ve actually been caught up in mental illness stigmas my whole life, which is honestly ridiculous because I’ve had an anxiety disorder since I was, erm…very very young. It didn’t have a “label” though and if someone tried to give it one, I got really offended and upset because isn’t mental illness those crazy people screaming in hospitals and stuff?? <– my uneducated younger self's thoughts. UGH STIGMAS. I really am glad books talk about it so openly and honestly (it's really comforting!) AND I'm really glad stigmas are being broken and it's okay to say "hey I have a mental illness" without feeling like everyone is going to hate/judge you, because so many people have experienced it.
    (I think it's awesome that you've found a passion for psychology too btw!)

    OH and The Half Life of Molly Pierce by Katrina Leno is one with a multiple personality disorder. OH AND YOU HAVE TO TRY CHARM & STRANGE BY STEPHANIE KUEHN. Personality disorder and it's one of the best books I've ever read. <3)

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    • I know rightttt, all this stigma makes mental illness sounds like something unnatural and makes people don’t want to talk about it… but it’s actually ridiculous! 😅😅 BUT THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I THOUGHT TOO! I’m glad I’ve learned a lot ever since. Ohh it’s true! Now if someone openly talks to me about their mental health I no longer feel uneasy or awkward 😀 Ahh I love The Lost & Found so I’m definitely gonna check Katrina Leno’s other book ❤ I heard Charm & Strange is really GOOD?! Another blogger also recommended it to me and I'm seriously excited to read it 😀

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  9. Thank you for this post, Puput ♥ As someone who’s suffered from MI my whole life I really appreciate your honesty. I feel like you handled the topic brilliantly.

    I hate the stigma that surrounds MI and I feel like it all comes from a lack of education. Society only wants to see the “nice” side of MI and doesn’t really want to talk about the darker aspects.

    I kind of have a love/hate relationship with books that deal with MI especially YA. When it’s done right, I love it, but so many times I find MI being cured by love interests or being tied up in a really nice bow.

    I love that these books are helping people learn about MI though. It’s so great and hopefully people will keep doing their own research and soon their won’t be stigmas at all.

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    • Ohhh you have NO IDEA how relieved I am to hear that! I’m super nervous of accidentally offending someone 😂 exactly, most people simply don’t know and don’t want to talk about it because it’s still considered a taboo topic, which brings us to this vicious cycle of stigma </3 ahh I understand what you mean, I also dislike the 'love cures all' trope when it comes to books dealing with MI. I mean, I'm sure love helps but not as the ultimate solution? Me too! I'm so thankful that fiction books had, to quote a comment from Kournti above, help bridging the gap between scientific and personal knowledge about mental illnesses 🙂

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  10. I love that you got the confidence to post this! I know I’m also hesitant about posting about mental illness, because I’m so worried I’ll offend someone who knows first hand what mental illness is like – and that’s not my intention at all!
    Books with mental illness are so important – without them, I definitely would still be part of the problem, by judging mentally ill people incorrectly.
    Loved this post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Sparkling Letters Monthly Recap: December 2016 + Highlights of the Year | Sparkling Letters

  12. I really enjoyed the book A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler. It’s YA about a girl who is afraid of becoming like her schizophrenic mother. She is afraid of loving the arts and giving in to her passion for it – all because her mother was an artist and it worries her that she has the same fate if she gives in to the art life. Such a great read about a teen dealing with taking care of a MI parent.

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  13. I am SO very glad that you decided to write this! I think learning is SO important- and your story of HOW you were able to learn could help so, so many people! Thing is, people with MH issues ARE often looked at as “crazy”. It’s something that needs to be challenged ALL the time- and your story is proof that views can most definitely be changed. It’s funny, my dad, who worked in the psychology field his whole life, has a degree in it even, was ashamed when I needed to go to therapy, be on meds. He wanted me to go somewhere far from our town so no one would recognize me. I was old enough to roll my eyes and outwardly ignore him, but it hurt nonetheless. He didn’t want me to be seen as “crazy” either. Which… whatever, if I have MI, so be it. My depression and anxiety don’t make me any less of a person, and if someone out there thinks it does, I’ll be happy to try to show them otherwise.

    I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Mental Health books and YA. If you go to my blog, I have run an event for two years now called #ShatteringStigmas and it is all about that- and there are TONS of recs too, if you are looking for some. My co-hosts posted theirs, as well, there are lots of links to help 😀

    Anyway, I think that fiction DOES help in some cases way more than a textbook could- because like you said, it helps you understand the real-life situations, more than just the clinical application. I am really looking forward to your next post about this, and I really love that you were so honest and real with this post, it is wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh thank you so much Shannon, it took A LOT of nerve but well hahaha 😂 I knooow such a stigma 😦 Oh sorry to hear that about your dad! I hope you’re doing well 🙂 AH I know that event, I think I saw it on your blog a few months ago? Definitely going to check them out again before I put together my recommendation post 😀

      I agree! Reading BOTH fiction and textbook has really helped understand MI more comprehensively 😀

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  14. I’ll Give You the Sun is such a great book and gives you a real insight in to the brains of other people. Another great one is The Man Who Couldn’t Stop by David Adam – a really interesting and insightful book about OCD. Really recommend!

    Mary 🙂

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  15. I do like to read books about mental illness. I don’t really know why, other than I find mental illness so interesting and I learn so much about other mental illnesses that I do not have. Thanks for the recommendation of “I’ll Give You The Sun” and “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop.” I’ll have to check and see if I can maybe find them on Amazon. Hope you’re having a great day. Peace out! 🙂

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    • I love learning things through books as well, that’s also why I love reading books about mental illness! 😀 Ohh I’ve read I’ll Give You the Sun and turned out it wasn’t about mental illness! I don’t know why goodreads shelved it that way 😅 thank you and hope you have a great day too! ❤

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  16. It was a very well written post. I would like to suggest one book.. no idea If you have read it or not , the name is An unquiet mind by Kay Jamison . It is her first hand experience with bipolar disorder. Hope you like it

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  17. I love this post. Thank you so much for sharing! I’m sure you’ve heard of All The Bright Places, but it’s a great portrayal of bipolar disorder. Also, memoirs are a great way to understand mental illness! I’m currently reading The Center Cannot Hold – I can’t put it down!

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  18. Thanks for sharing this. It’s good to hear from the ‘other side of the fence’. How you’ve become more aware and reading up on mental illness. I wish everyone who felt/thought the way you used to, would also do some research into this. Those of us with mental illnesses are high functioning so the world won’t even know that we’re suffering, and what we deal with on a daily basis.

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  19. Thank you for your blog post. My name is Jake. I’m a Certified Peer Specialist in mental health. A CPS is a person with lived experience with mental illness who completes a training course and examination to work with his/her peers modeling recovery. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2 in 2001 after a mental breakdown. I went through many difficult years, but now I live in recovery and a train my peers to be CPSs.

    I want to tell you that I have been in therapy with clinical psychologists for 30 years. It’s one of the pillars of my recovery. It is vital for me to have the ear of a trained, disinterested 3rd party to listen to my situations and then guide me to make up my own mind about how to move forward in those situations.

    In my years working with psychologists, I have been amazed at how I am really my own caregiver in the relationship. The psychologist merely guides me. I have found that most people who do not use a therapist think they are like a medical doctor. They assess symptoms and administer cures. But it’s not that way at all. I am my own doctor when I work with a psychologist. I’m the one doing the work. It took many years, but I can honestly say that I am very happy with being me, and the psychologists were the ones who led me to this place. Not the MDs or the psychiatrists.

    I wish you luck as you consider your future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love this comment so much!! Thank you for telling me this. First of all, I’m so glad you’re doing well and now taking a step to help your peers to get better, that’s a really nice thing to do. I hope you and your peers are always doing great! 😀 and second, thank YOU! I’m not a psychologist yet but reading this comment somehow made me feel proud hahaha it’s sad to see that in books a lot of therapists are portrayed as ‘useless’ and always ask ‘stupid questions’ because we’re actually a trained professional and those questions are supposed to help people think and decide for themselves, just like you said hehe you’re completely right, psychologists are there to help people help themselves, not to cure them or solve their problems so I’m so happy to hear that your psychologist has helped you became your own caregiver 🙂 and thank you so much, I hope in the future I could be the psychologist who help people like your psychologist did to you 😀

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  20. Thank you for writing this 🙂 it’s encouraging to see that people are willing to open their hearts and minds enough to learn! We were diagnosed with PTSD at age 7 — CPTSD at age 12 and DID at 16. Many people fear what they don’t understand. It’s human instinct 🙂 That in an of itself can be seen as a part of the anxiety continuum. In many ways I replace the word ‘normal’ in my head with “how much does it impede ones functioning?” 🙂
    Libby

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    • Thank YOU for your sweet response 😀 exactly! I think all the stigmas come because most people are uneducated when it comes to mental health issues. So it’s great for books to portray them and do it correctly, it would really help a lot of readers to understand more 😀 I hope you’re always doing well! ❤

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