Today is University Mental Health Day; an important point in the calendar to remember that illnesses are not always visible, and that individual struggles are not always audible. A helping hand, a sympathetic chat, and taking time out of your day to make sure that the people around you feel appreciated and cared for won’t fix every problem, but it is so important to make sure that no one feels alone.

Over the years I’ve read a lot of books which have helped me to understand mental illness better, and brought comfort and solace at different times. Today I’m just providing a brief list of a few that might help you out a little bit- whether it’s something you can read for yourself, something you can bring along to a book club, or something you can lend to a friend or family member. In the future, I’d like to write more about some research I’m pursuing at the minute about mental health, identity, and imagining the self in literature of the long 1960s, as it relates to Electroconvulsive Therapy. Look out for an update soon!


Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“I guess I should have reacted the way most of the other girls were, but I couldn’t get myself to react. I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle

“It was important to choose the exact device to drive Charles away. An imperfect magic, or one incorrectly used, might only bring more disaster upon our house. I thought of my mother’s jewels, since this was a day of sparkling things, but they might not be strong on a dull day, and Constance would be angry if I took them out of the box where they belonged, when she herself had decided against it. I thought of books, which are always strongly protective, but my father’s book had fallen from the tree and let Charles in; books, then, were perhaps powerless against Charles. I lay back against the tree trunk and thought of magic; if Charles had not gone away before three days I would smash the mirror in the hall.”

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway

“She had the perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very, dangerous to live even one day.”

Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

“One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls.”

Penelope Mortimer, The Pumpkin Eater

“I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what I’m like, how can I know what I want? I only know that whether I’m good or bad, whether I’m a bitch or not, whether I’m strong or weak or contemptible or a bloody martyr – I mean whether I’m fat or thin, tall or short, because I don’t know – I want to be happy.”

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Yellow Wallpaper

“If a physician of high standing assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency – what is one to do?”

Joanna Bourke, Fear: A Cultural History

“Like other sets of habits, emotions had to be learned. So, fear was not an instinctive reaction to phylogenetically predetermined objects or events, but was a learned response occurring on ‘signals’ or conditioned stimuli…. Consequently it came as no surprise … that children shared their mother’s fears. This shared community of fear within the family was not due to inheritance of psychic mechanisms: it was learned. After all, the behaviourists pointed out, there was no direct relationship between fear and vulnerability. Indeed, the most defenceless of all human beings (the new-born child) was the least fearful of all God’s creatures.”

Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

“All I know is this: nobody’s very big in the first place, and it looks to me like everybody spends their whole life tearing everybody else down.”

Doris Lessing, Briefing For a Descent Into Hell

“My sense of urgency is very simple,’ said the professor, ‘I’ve remembered that much. It’s because what I have to remember has to do with time running out. And that’s what anxiety is, in a lot of people. They know they have to do something, they should be doing something else, not just living hand-to-mouth, putting paint on their faces and decorating their caves and playing nasty tricks on their rivals. No. They have to do something else before they die—and so the mental hospitals are full and the chemists flourishing.”

Sue Kaufman, Diary of a Mad Housewife: a novel

“Your life really is full of crap isn’t it?”

Did you enjoy this post? If you’d like to see more, or less, of this kind of content then please leave a comment below, or find The Slow Pulse on Twitter,Facebook and Tumblr. If you want to contact me directly, you can email theslowpulseblog@gmail.com


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