The five best mental health books

Jo Hooper

When I first realised how mad and sad I really was, I struggled to read a page – I couldn’t imagine ploughing through the best mental health books!

My mind was whirring too fast and too constantly and I just couldn’t concentrate on words on a page. I’d end up reading and re-reading words and paragraphs over and over.

But I also knew that I wanted to find out more about what was happening to me. I am a very logical person and logic told me that I needed to learn about the mind to find out how to fix it.

So, instead of reading, I turned to audiobooks, listening while relaxing, walking…. I would add another here, but that’s about all I did for those three months I was off work.

I noticed that there’s not a lot online that compiles the best mental health books, so I thought I’d take a stab at it here.

My recommendations for the five best mental health books

Sane new world – Ruby Wax

This was the first book I listened to and it was a game changer. I now have a paperback copy and often go back to it. Ruby (I’ll call her Ruby, like we’re mates) did a masters in Psychotherapy and was one of the first people to study Cognitive-based Mindfulness Therapy at the University of Oxford and has since written three books, but this is my fave.

She really clearly – and hilariously – explains how the brain works in terms that even a clinically depressed hermit can understand.  

The concept that gave me real hope – and has stuck with me – is that of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity – in my own layman’s terms – is the idea that your thought processes are like muscle memory. Automatic and even unconscious patterns of your brain’s behaviour.

So my brain muscle memory is that I’m a failure. Spot a typo in a blog post? You’re a failure. Bungle my words in a presentation? You’re a failure. Book a restaurant that turns out not to be as great as the Tripadvisor reviews suggest? You’re a failure.

But while many of us think ‘that’s just the way I am, I’ll never change,’ neuroplasticity proves that you can. You can grow and flex new muscles in the brain to create new muscle memory.

You do this by noticing those thoughts, challenging them and consciously choosing to think something more rational.

So, when I hear that reflex brain reaction of ‘you’re a failure,’ I notice it, stop for a second, (and this is where I sound really mental) have a conversation with my mind internally and say ‘actually hang on, I’m not a failure. I just mis-spelled a word / got my words muddled / trusted untrustworthy reviews. I’ll learn from it and move on.’

It takes time – after all those muscle memories have been learned and reinforced over years and years – but it genuinely does work.

best mental health books

Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

This one’s a toughie. I couldn’t read it at first and I would recommend waiting to read it until your mood is a bit brighter, but by gum is it powerful.

This is author Matt Haig’s story of reaching the depths of depression and his journey to managing it.

The story is incredibly compelling and it’s a short read with big words – Matt knows what us maddos need – but the thing I loved most about it was the interludes of lists.

Lists of things that make people happy. A literal list of reasons to stay alive. Lists of reasons why this modern world can make us unhappy, unfulfilled and anxious if we let it.

The Stranger on the Bridge – Jonny Benjamin

In 2014, Jonny Benjamin launched a social media campaign to find Neil Laybourn – the man who had talked him out of taking his own life in 2008. They were reunited and are now great friends, working together to campaign on mental health.

In The Stranger on the Bridge, Jonny documents the journey that took him to the bridge and his meeting with Neil and how he continues to manages his mental health.

I met Jonny when he spoke at an event recently. He is so honest and compelling and is really open about his ongoing journey with his mental health through his Instagram.

best mental health books Jonny Benjamin

Depression in a digital age – Fiona Thomas

Fiona Thomas is a fantastic freelance writer, who dishes out daily doses of mental health honesty and positivity on Instagram.

Her book documents her struggle with anxiety and depression, but crucially looks at how digital and social media has had a hugely positive impact on her mind.

At a time when we’re constantly being told the story of how social media can be bad for our mental health, Fiona’s book provides a fresh perspective.

Check her out on Instagram – she’s ace!

The Self-Care Project – Jayne Hardy

Jayne Hardy runs the fantastic Blurt Foundation with her husband Dom. The Blurt Foundation are a fantastic organisation that I used a lot when I was feeling pretty low.

The Self-Care Project is all about what it says on the tin – self-care. But not the bubble baths and massage kind. The kind of self-care that helps you to manage anxiety, depression, stress, overwhelm on a daily basis. A tool to look after yourself.

Jayne challenges the misconception that self-care is self-indulgent or selfish in a super compelling way and gives you journaling prompts, checklists and worksheets to help you figure out what self-care looks like for you.

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