What Are The Best Books Representing Mental Illness?

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In addition to the more traditional psychological books that are geared towards psychology students and professionals, there are a number of books that were written with the lay person in mind. These may be people working in the field or simply those with an interest in psychology and the workings of the human mind. These are five of the best reads for those with an interest in psychology.

Girl, Interrupted

Susanna Kaysen

While this book was made into a hit movie in 1999, it was first a widely acclaimed book about mental illness and the flaws in the way the mentally ill were treated in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In this book, the reader is taken on a journey into the mind of an affluent young girl battling mental illness. The interesting twist to this book is that it is an autobiography of author Susanna Kaysen’s own life story. In 1967, eighteen-year-old Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to a mental hospital. She spent the better part of two years in a psychiatric ward for teenage girls, part of a then-progressive mode of treating those who could afford its sanctuary. In this moving memoir, the author describes the horror and self-perceptions with vivid descriptions of her fellow patients and their caretakers. Girl, Interrupted is a stunning document offering the reader first hand accounts of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an international bestseller and the foundation of the same-named successful movie. Ken Kesey created one of the most defining literary and screen works of the 1960s. In the book, the reader is given a revolutionary look into a mental ward, with tales of the electric interactions between the hell-raising, life-affirming hero Randle Patrick McMurphy and the dictatorial “care” of Big Nurse. Throughout the book, the main character turns the mental warn on its’ head, creating a gambling operation, smuggling in alcohol and women, and enlisting other patients to join his rebellion. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is seen as a precedent setting piece of literature, by presenting a comic and tragic probe into the nature of madness and sanity, authority and vitality. While this book is by no means a psychological textbook for study, it is an important glimpse into the history of the field of psychology and how far we have come.

Sybil

Flora Rheta Schreiber

This novel made it’s way quickly to the top of the bestseller lists and riveted the public. It was eventually made into the Emmy Award-winning film starring Sally Field, as one of the most riveting TV movies ever made. The book and subsequent movie are the story of a survivor of horrific childhood abuse, who fell victim to sudden and unexplained blackouts. Sybil was the first case of multiple personality ever to be professionally psychoanalyzed. Sybil was the initial self, who developed sixteen “selves”, both women and men, each with a different personality, speech pattern, and even personal appearance. This book is nearly impossible to put down with a spell-bounding tale of the inner workings of the mind.

The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood, a brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful girls who is slowly falling into her own mind. Sylvia Plath beautifully brings the reader into this breakdown with a level of intensity that allows the reader to experience the entire frightening journey. The book takes us into the dark and disturbing angles of the human psyche is what has become a haunting American classic.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

Oliver Sacks

In his classic book that has been hailed as, “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (by The New York Times), Oliver Sacks narrates the case histories of patients lost in the curious, seemingly inescapable world of neurological disorders. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals living with bizarre perceptual and intellectual abnormalities including such troubles as: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; people who can no longer recognize people and common objects; those who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents. This is an excellent read for both psychology professionals and lay people alike.

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