7 Books (and Characters) That Made Mental Health Advocates Feel Seen

published May 17, 2022
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Do you read a book to escape, or to get a new perspective on your everyday life? Do you seek entirely new characters, or to find people who make you feel less alone? You can read for all of these things, or none of these things, but in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I talked to a range of mental health advocates about the books they felt accurately, and empathetically, built characters who navigated mental health struggles. From social workers to introverted artists, each recommended a book and character that made them feel seen, which is one of the best gifts an author can give their reader.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

“Brit Bennett does a great job of displaying how grief can manifest in behaviors when it is not addressed or processed. I personally identified with Robert Turner, the widower, because I too turned to volunteering obsessively at my church when my mother first passed away — suppressing my emotions and distracting myself from my loss. Ultimately, this behavior wasn’t the best action of choice; it helped me in the short-term, but not in the long run as it delayed my healing journey.” —Oludara Adeeyo, psychiatric social worker and author of “Self-Care for Black Women

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

“She’s not a fictional character, but Cheryl Strayed, author of ‘Wild’, really made me feel seen in writing so candidly about her relationship with herself and her struggles with addiction and mental illness. I loved her book yet often felt deeply uncomfortable reading it — while I haven’t been through many of the struggles she has, her raw vulnerability made me feel like I was looking in a mirror.” —Tori Press, artist and author of “I Am Definitely, Probably, Enough (I Think)

To the End Of the Land by David Grossman 

“Ora, the main character, is a woman dealing with intense anxiety that is both personal and connected to the circumstances of her son’s deployment in the army. In fact, the personal and political are intertwined in ways that are deeply explored. We relate to the idea that the circumstances of our lives are not separate from what is going on in the larger society. We appreciate the depiction of her struggles — feeling like she is losing her mind — and her struggle to find a way to get through her intense anxiety.” —Abbe Greenberg, MCIS, and Maggie Sarachek, MSW, co-founders of the Anxiety Sisters community  

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan

“Chan asks readers to sit with a protagonist, Frida, who has made a terrible parenting mistake which results in her being sent away to be re-educated in the ways of being ‘good mother.’ Chan’s novel does not ask us to absolve Frida, but rather to understand her, to empathize with her, and to see the dehumanizing social conditions that serve to judge rather than uplift mothers. As a mother myself, I felt challenged and seen by this astounding novel and I’m so grateful for its existence.” —Chloé Cooper Jones, author of “Easy Beauty

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

“I feel a kinship with Elaine, a woman grappling with the residual trauma of a toxic childhood friendship. Elaine and I both channel our pain into art, creating imagery that communicates what we couldn’t say as children.” —Marzi Wilson, artist behind Introvert Doodles and author of “Positively Introverted

Animal by Lisa Taddeo

“I love, love, love ‘Animal’. Joan is a character that immediately piqued my interest because of her very flawed and dark nature. Her rage toward men was something I understood all too well, and I frantically plowed through the book to see what would become of her.” —Erika Sanchez, author of “Crying in the Bathroom

“Not only does Nina love books like I do, but she also struggles with anxiety. One of the ways she manages it is by planning her days down to the minute, including setting aside time for reading or just doing nothing. The feeling of control, even however false, that I get by structuring my days is something that also helps me keep my anxiety in check (at least sometimes). Nina also tends to retreat when her anxiety becomes too much, pulling away from family and friends for fear of burdening them, something I find myself doing as a way to cope, especially these last couple of years.” —Katharine Scrivener, bookstagrammer at @readwithkat and mental health advocate