The country’s mental health has definitely been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. More people are turning towards local services, their GP and psychiatrists for support and sadly, aren’t getting very far. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. I was just like you and it’s a tough situation to be in.
What we tend to see during times of crisis is that people turn to activities they enjoy and feel calmed by. They choose to do something that gives them comfort and this could be anything from exercise, drawing, binge watching Netflix or reading.
But did you know that reading is used in social prescribing to help people struggling with their mental health? It’s called Bibliotherapy and is a creative therapy helping people through the art of reading and storytelling in order for them to heal.
Like Mel (Huose21) and Steph (Diva Mum) who do the House21 Book Club podcast, I’m a huge reader and book lover. If I was ever in need of escapism as a kid, I would always pick up a book and get lost in stories by Enid Blyton (The Faraway Tree Famous Five), Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach, The Witches) and R.L Stine (Goosebumps). I would always try to find meaning and comfort in what I was reading. And it worked.
It’s also exactly where I turned when I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), a life-changing mental health condition, a few years ago. Medical professionals didn’t tell me much, the internet scared me into thinking it wasn’t real and so the only place to turn was to books. I wanted to not feel so alone in my diagnosis so bought any books relating to mental health. Now, although I found comfort in other people’s stories, I sometimes found them to be quite triggering, especially if their experiences were similar to mine.
That’s when I discovered mental health fiction. The stories are made-up, but the experiences feel not only creative but real too. The characters are loveable, and you find yourself getting lost in their journey.
So, I wanted to recommend four fantastic mental health fiction books that I found really insightful and I hope you will too.
Elinor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
As someone who’s always felt like an outsider, I felt so much empathy to Elinor Oliphant. She is a 29-year-old finance clerk for a graphic design company who’s a bit of an oddball. She lives an isolated life and is stuck in the same routine; going to work, eating the same food every day and picking up bottles of vodka on the weekend which she drinks by herself. The theme of isolation and loneliness is prominent throughout the book until she meets two characters who change her life for the better, saving her from being all by herself. This book couldn’t be more indicative right now of so many people who are struggling with loneliness and depression thanks to this pandemic. The book is warm, uplifting and Elinor is an unlikely heroine you root for throughout the story.
The Twenty-Seven Club by Lucy Nichol
The story opens with the day that rock musician, Kurt Cobain (front man for the band, Nirvana) dies of a drug overdose. The main protagonist, Emma, is not only a huge fan and is devastated by his death, she’s also on the road to being 27. She gets to thinking about why so many fantastic musicians all passed away at the same age as her. Emma drinks a bit too much and does a few too many drugs, so the novel looks at her anxiety around whether she will make it to age 27. The book is filled with nineties nostalgia and references that people of a certain age will definitely get, myself included!
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Trigger warning – This book discusses suicide throughout
Unlike the previous books, this one is semi-autobiographical and incredibly powerful. The book wasd published in 1963 and Sylvia Plath used a pseudonym under which she released the book. This was the only novel she ever wrote as in 1963, after struggling with clinical depression, she took her own life.
The main character in The Bell Jar is Esther Greenwood – a young, extremely talented but destructive individual who constantly has suicide on her mind. She is finishing an internship at a glamorous magazine in New York and feels like the world should be at her feet. But she doesn’t. The reader is drawn into how Esther thinks and how she feels, being taken along on this powerful but sad journey. Plath describes Esther’s breakdown with such sincerity that her insanity becomes all too realistic. This novel absolutely blew me away and has left a lasting impression.
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
The lead protagonist, Samantha, lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which leaves her with intrusive thoughts and anxious feelings she can’t get rid of. This young adult book describes so well what it’s like to live with OCD and how teenage Samantha struggles to fit in because of her mental health condition. Although she lives with this often-times debilitating condition, Samantha is a strong character, and her story is not only uplifting but inspirational too.
The above novels might not provide guidance or advice, but they do get you thinking and hopefully reassure you that while you might be struggling, you’re not alone and things can get better.