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Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 Reading List

There is hope, even when your brain tells you there isn’t.

John Green, Turtles All the Way Down

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month? Observed since 1949, this month is designed to “fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support the millions of people in the U.S. affected by mental illness.” -NAMI.com. To honor that mission, we’ve put together a short reading list of popular nonfiction books concerning mental health.



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Cain shows how a bittersweet state of mind is the quiet force that helps us transcend our personal and collective pain, whether from a death or breakup, addiction or illness. If we don’t acknowledge our own heartache, she says, we can end up inflicting it on others via abuse, domination, or neglect. But if we realize that all humans know–or will know–loss and suffering, we can turn toward one another. 



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Brain on Fire meets High Achiever in this “page-turner memoir chronicling a woman’s accidental descent into prescription benzodiazepine dependence–and the life-threatening impacts of long-term use–that chills to the bone” (Nylon).



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With people experiencing anxiety and depression now more than ever, Jenny humanizes what we all face in an all-too-real way, reassuring us that we’re not alone and making us laugh while doing it. From the business ideas that she wants to pitch to Shark Tank to the reason why Jenny can never go back to the post office, Broken leaves nothing to the imagination in the most satisfying way. And of course, Jenny’s long-suffering husband Victor–the Ricky to Jenny’s Lucille Ball–is present throughout.



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Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father-an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist-who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame. Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.



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One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose of­fice she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but.

As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients’ lives — a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can’t stop hooking up with the wrong guys — she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell.

With startling wisdom and humor, Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we teeter on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change.



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A racing heart. Difficulty breathing. Overwhelming dread. Andrea Petersen was first diagnosed with ananxiety disorderat the age of twenty, but she later realized that she had been experiencing panic attacks since childhood. With time her symptoms multiplied. She agonized over every odd physical sensation. She developed fears of driving on highways, going to movie theaters, even licking envelopes. Although having a name for her condition was an enormous relief, it was only the beginning of a journey to understand and master it-one that took her from psychiatrists’ offices to yoga retreats to the Appalachian Trail.

Woven into Petersen’s personal story is a fascinating look at the biology of anxiety and the groundbreaking research that might point the way to new treatments. She compares psychoactive drugs to non-drug treatments, including biofeedback and exposure therapy. And she explores the role that genetics and the environment play in mental illness, visiting top neuroscientists and tracing her family history-from her grandmother, who, plagued by paranoia,once tried to burn down her own house, to her young daughter, in whom Petersen sees shades of herself.



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We think of anxiety as everything from mild unease to full-blown panic. But it’s also what drives the addictive behaviors and bad habits we use to cope (e.g. stress eating, procrastination, doom scrolling and social media). Plus, anxiety lives in a part of the brain that resists rational thought. So we get stuck in anxiety habit loops that we can’t think our way out of or use willpower to overcome. Dr. Brewer teaches us to map our brains to discover our triggers, defuse them with the simple but powerful practice of curiosity, and to train our brains using mindfulness and other practices that his lab has proven can work.



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A comforting and useful resource for anyone who’s struggling emotionally and looking for help―from the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit that addresses the needs of those living with mental illness.



For any questions about putting these or any other books on hold, please leave a comment below or call the reference desk at 732-873-8700 opt. 3.

Thanks for reading,
George, FTPL

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