Empathy, escapism, or insight, a good book can be like a friend in troubled times. In this entirely subjective list, we’ve compiled must-read books from our readers and colleagues, which have made a huge impact on their lives in times when they needed it most
20. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
Joint winner of the Booker Prize 2019, Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives of 12 people as they navigate questions of class, race, sexuality, gender,
19. Your Erroneous Zones by Wayne W Dyer
If you’ve ever been plagued by self-doubt, this book is a must-read. Exploring how to overcome the things holding us back, the ‘father of motivation’ helps us to move forward.
18. The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
With Oprah Winfrey calling it “one of the most valuable books [she’s] ever read”, this read encourages us all to live a healthier and happier life by connecting to the present moment.
Yellow Kite, £10.99
17. Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim
With a video of one of her poems having more than 5 million views, Sabrina Benaim’s debut book draws together a collection of poems on mental health, love, and family.
SCB Distributed Publishers, £13.99
16. Welcome to the NHK by Tatsuhiko Takimoto
Tackling themes around depression and isolation, the series gives a unique view into young people’s struggle to connect and find their place in society.
15. There is No Right Way to Meditate by Yumi Sakugawa
An uplifting guide on how to lead a more peaceful life from award-winning artist Yumi Sakugawa, featuring stunning illustrations, and ways to connect with the moment.
Adams Media, £9.99
14. Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe
For anyone in need of inspiration to show yourself the self-love and acceptance you deserve, this is your go-to guide to embracing yourself, just as you are.
13. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen
A sincere and moving account of Michael's grief following the death of his son, Eddie, from meningitis at the age of 19.
Walker Books, £6.99
12. All That Man Is by David Szalay
In this collection of intertwined short stories, David Szalay explores masculinity as he guides us through the different stages of a man’s life, from 17 to 73.
It made me rethink a lot of the things I do… This book doesn’t play to my insecurities about being weak if I don’t take up the gauntlet
11. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
A semi-autobiographical classic, The Bell Jar was first published in the UK a month after Plath’s own death by suicide. It follows college student Esther as she moves to New York for an internship, but her time is unfulfilling. Struggling with her personal identity and societal expectations, and based on Plath’s own experiences in a psychiatric facility, readers get a glimpse into what life was like living with depression, suicidal thoughts, and mental health treatment in the 50s.
Faber & Faber, £8.99
10. It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (and other lies) by Scarlett Curtis
Following the success of her Sunday Times best-seller, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, Scarlett Curtis curated this powerful, funny, and often poignant collection of mental health stories from more than 70 people. Including words from Emma Thompson, Matt Haig, and Poorna Bell, this is a heartfelt and honest look at mental health, why it’s OK to be overwhelmed, and that it’s OK to be human.
9. Playing Big by Tara Mohr
It’s a pattern you see so often – women with so much talent and potential, but unable to recognise it. We’re afraid to put ourselves out there, and hold back, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Happiful’s Kat says: “It’s about negotiating fear and self-doubt to help you build confidence and ‘play big’ in your life.” And that’s something we should all feel empowered to do.
8. Secrets for the Mad by dodie
YouTuber and musician dodie’s debut book is a collection of anecdotes and life lessons exploring her experience with mental health. Diving into everything from relationships to suicidal ideation, this candid account feels like listening to a friend sharing the experiences that made her the person she is today.
Ebury Press, £16.99
7. Flow: The Psychology of Happiness by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
What makes life truly worthwhile? For more than two decades, Mihaly investigated this very subject matter – studying where concentration and enjoyment meet. Covering issues such as family relationships, the pain of loneliness, and how to make our lives meaningful, Flow is an accessible insight into modern psychology.
Happiful’s Jo says: “It made me rethink a lot of the things I do… This book doesn’t play to my insecurities about being weak if I don’t take up the gauntlet.”
6. The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
Veblen is an amateur translator and people-pleaser under the wrath of her narcissistic and controlling mother. Her fiance Paul is a neuroscientist and the son of ‘good hippies and bad parents’. As Paul navigates the shady world of pharmaceuticals, Veblen tries to mend broken family bonds. A story of dysfunction, love, and morality, The Portable Veblen puts conversations about mental health subtly at the forefront.
Fourth Estate, £8.99
5. We’re All Mad Here by Claire Eastham
For some people, socialising is like breathing. But for others, it doesn’t come so naturally. If you’ve ever felt crippled by self-doubt in social situations – whether at university, work, parties, dates or even on social media – then this book from award-winning blogger Claire Eastham should be your go-to guide for getting through it. With her fantastic sense of humour, and bringing in her own experiences, We’re All Mad Here explores exactly what social anxiety is, and how you can lessen its hold over you.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, £12.99
4. Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love by Zack McDermott
People are often afraid to mix mental health and humour, but Zack McDermott fuses the two seamlessly in this story of a young man recovering from a psychotic break, and the relationship that saves him. One day Zack wakes up convinced that his life is being filmed, and the people around him are actors. Raw, emotional, and with its dark humour, we join Zack’s journey of recovery, with the unrelenting support of his tough but big-hearted mother, Bird.
Through every story runs the central message that, with hope, kindness, and friendship, we can work towards overcoming the things that challenge us
3. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
When it comes to debut novels, Gail Honeyman couldn’t have hoped for a better response to her award-winning fiction, with more than 2.5 million copies sold and captivating audiences worldwide.
The book follows unusual and endearing Eleanor Oliphant as she recovers from past trauma, and makes new human connections following a lifetime of isolation. And while it’s a tale covering themes of loneliness and trauma, it’s also incredibly uplifting, moving and hopeful, recounting the small acts of kindness that, actually, make the biggest difference of all.
2. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
With suicide being the biggest cause of death among UK men under 45, it remains a vital topic to broach with our loved ones, to ensure no one is suffering alone. Whether you’re struggling yourself, or looking for insight to help others, this Sunday Times best-selling memoir is essential reading.
One of the leading voices in mental health writing, Matt Haig opens up about his depression and anxiety. Taking you on a journey from his lowest moments, to the series of events that helped him learn to live again, Matt speaks about mental health in a touching, reflective way that peels back the stigma and lets us know we’re not alone.
Canongate Books, £9.99
1. Winnie-the-Pooh: The Complete Collection of Stories and Poems by A A Milne (Egmont, £40)
First published in 1924, this much-loved collection of stories, featuring the world’s most famous bear, still has a place on our bookshelves, and in our hearts. As the UN ambassador of friendship, there’s a lesson or two to be learned from this unassuming bear and his friends. Those living with depression may see themselves in the withdrawn nature of Eeyore, and those with anxiety might recognise Piglet’s fears. But through every story runs the central message that, with hope, kindness, and friendship, we can work towards overcoming the things that challenge us.
Follow Pooh and his friends as they set off on adventures, and get themselves into all sorts of trouble. From the importance of being yourself, to the power of love and acceptance, be inspired by the sweet, simple mantras of these children’s classics that break down barriers and stigma, and are bound to leave you touched and hopeful.