15 Best Books for Mental Health in 2021 – Healthline

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Books are more than just a comfort. They can be a portal to different worlds, a bridge to a new past or future, an outpost for philosophies, and a support system for times of need.
In a literal sense, research shows that reading has the power to change your brain and create different patterns within it. On a practical level, reading allows you to learn new information and skills you might’ve not known before.
While dealing with a mental illness can feel isolating, 20 percent of the U.S. population experiences mental illness each year. Therapy and mindfulness are powerful steps in seeking help. For those looking to learn new skills outside of therapy, libraries and bookstores are teaming with options written by experts and licensed professionals.
Mental health books can be a useful way to process your experiences, learn about psychology, and often find techniques and tools to help you in your daily life. They can aid your mental health toolkit by providing different techniques, scientific research, and stories of others who have faced the same hurdles.
Here, we’ve rounded up books that cover the subjects of depression, anxiety, addiction, self-love, relationships, and more.
The books on this list cover a broad spectrum of mental health concerns and provide tools to manage difficult times in life. Some books listed were written by doctors and mental health professionals, while others were recommended by mental health professionals who use the books with their patients. Several books were highly rated and written by people who’ve dealt with a mental health issue.
Trauma comes in all forms, from near-death experiences to unexpected loss. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk uses recent scientific discoveries to reveal how trauma doesn’t just impact the mind, but also the body.
According to van der Kolk, trauma can compromise the sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. In his #1 New York Times bestselling book, “The Body Keeps the Score,” he explores treatment methods that help activate the brain’s natural neuroplasticity in trauma patients.
More than an achievement in neuroscience, “The Body Keeps the Score” is a way for readers to potentially find their way through the depths of trauma with unique approaches to therapy like yoga and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. The book has garnered the interest and praise of many in neuroscience and psychology.
In a review found on Amazon, Ruth A. Lanius, MD, PhD, director of PTSD research at the University of Western Ontario, says, “This book will provide traumatized individuals with a guide to healing and permanently change how psychologists and psychiatrists think about trauma and recovery.”
The brain is a powerful organ that is responsible for a myriad of functions in our body and mind. Why not treat it like the rest of our body? Author and neuropsychiatrist Daniel G. Amen, MD, makes the case for how anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, impulsiveness, and anger may be related to how specific structures work in your brain. He uses scientific evidence and research compiled from 100,000 SPECT brain scans to explain the mechanics of how the brain contributes to overall mental health.
The book shares techniques to lessen anxiety, fight depression, curb anger, boost memory, sharpen your focus, and deal with the feeling of being stuck.
“Reading this book felt like panning for gold during the gold rush,” shared one reviewer on Amazon. While the book has gems, some reviewers feel Amen is overly self-promotional in his writing.
Do you ever feel like a prisoner to your thoughts? If you can’t seem to snuff out the flames of intrusive thoughts, there’s a book for that. Intrusive thoughts can sometimes feel like a gnat you can’t seem to keep away. At other times, they may feel like an avalanche that sends you into panic.
In “Hope and Help for Your Nerves,” Dr. Claire Weekes provides step-by-step guidance on how to understand and mitigate your symptoms of anxiety. She uses her own experience and scenarios from pioneering work in psychiatry to provide a clear-cut path to help readers find their own power.
You may know Russell Brand from his acting career, but the “Get Him to The Greek” star has paved a way for himself as a recovery advocate. In 2019, Brand debuted his book, “Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions.” His book provides lessons that can be applied to a variety of addictions, and provides steps for people with addiction and their loved ones to get the help they need.
Brand has openly battled with drug, sex, alcohol, fame, and food addictions. The comedian uses humor and compassion while weaving his own story of addiction with advice he’s learned while in recovery. Rather than ask readers why they are addicted, he believes the real question should be: “what pain is your addiction masking?” Between Brand’s own revelations on the world and his personal plan of recovery, the actor provides a fresh perspective on moving past addiction.
Brand isn’t a mental health professional but his experience may help readers feel less alone in their struggles.
Abuse can come in the form of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse that impacts men, women, and nonbinary people. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women experience abuse by a romantic partner while 1 in 5 women experience rape. The statistics are striking and leave organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that 20 people in the U.S. are abused by an intimate partner every minute.
With abuse being a saddening but common experience among women, it’s likely you or someone you know has experienced some type of intimate partner violence. Workbooks like “Healing the Trauma of Abuse: A Women’s Workbook” help to provide a gentle approach to healing and recovery. The book can apply to women who experienced trauma as a child or adult, and aims to introduce readers to problem-solving and self-advocacy strategies to rebuild self-esteem and heal. The methodology was developed by Maxine Harris and clinicians at Community Connections, a non-profit mental health agency in Washington, D.C.
Within the book, readers can take an assessment to understand if they are ready to undergo the exercises. The guide covers subjects like physical and emotional boundaries, self-soothing techniques, female sexuality, self-destructive behaviors, communication techniques, and acceptance.
While the book has received a wide array of positive reviews and a 4.6 rating on Amazon, the authors do not recommend the book for women who are currently trying to leave an abusive relationship.
Psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb was used to being the therapist in the room until she experienced a crisis that led her to change roles and sit on the therapy couch. In the New York Times bestselling memoir, “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” Gottlieb takes readers through life as a therapist seeking therapy. The book follows the therapy sessions of her clients at her Los Angeles-based practice, including the lessons she learns from them and the progress they’ve made along the way. When Gottlieb experiences an unexpected breakup, she finds herself seeking out therapy from Wendell and getting a taste of what it’s like to be a client.
“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” sprinkles in humor and honesty as Gottlieb shares her perspective as a practitioner and patient. Through her words, readers will be left with wisdom and hope about the human condition we all share. If you’re nervous about seeing a therapist, this book will help you see sessions through a counselor’s eyes and understand they are human just like you.
Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that hinders a person’s ability to have healthy boundaries and a balanced partnership in their romantic, platonic, or family relationships. Often, people who are codependent may find themselves feeling insecure in their relationship, a need for approval, a lack of trust in themselves and others, difficulty making decisions, and guilty asserting themselves. A codependent person might go to extremes to stay in their relationship and avoid abandonment, which can become all-consuming.
In Melody Beattie’s “Codependent No More,” she shares life stories, reflections, exercises, and self-tests to help readers break the pattern of codependency and start putting their lives first. The book has garnered more than 30,000 reviews on Goodreads, with a majority of positive reviews. Some reviewers felt the book was repetitive, didn’t like some of the religious themes mentioned, and found that many portions focused on codependency when dealing with someone with alcohol abuse disorder.
Allyson Timmons, licensed mental health counselor and founder of Envision Therapy, feels the book helps provide “guidelines to healing from codependency through analyzing patterns and creating healthy boundaries.”
What if getting over burnout was easier than we imagined? Sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, are on a mission to end burnout by helping readers understand how to unlock the biological stress cycle. Their book, “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” has set out to explain why women experience burnout differently from men, how to minimize the feeling, and how to manage emotions.
According to the book, burnout is emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment. The authors share that just because you’ve handled a stressor in your life doesn’t mean you’ve completed a stress cycle, and getting stuck in that cycle can — you guessed it — cause burnout. Emily and Amelia Nagoski outline how to understand your body’s response to stress, close the loop of the stress cycle, and enact planful problem solving through thorough research and helpful worksheets.
Sarah Knight, a New York Times bestselling author of “Calm the F*** Down,” called “Burnout” the gold standard of self-help books. Some reviewers complained about the feminist principles that shine through the text, pop culture references, and the conversational writing style. Overall, the book has garnered four stars on Goodreads since its debut, with a majority of happy readers.
Loss, heartache, failure, and rejection aren’t as visible as a broken limb or open cut, but that doesn’t make them any less painful. Guy Winch, PhD, wrote “Emotional First Aid” to provide strategies to those in need of mending the emotional pains that everyone experiences at some point in life. Like any wound, leaving an ailment untreated can cause it to worsen or spread. Rather than writing patients a prescription, Winch provides strategies and tools to build your own emotional first aid kit. In the book, he tackles rejection, loneliness, loss and trauma, guilt, rumination, failure, and low self-esteem.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), depression has become the leading cause of disability around the world, and a fifth of all adults in the United States experience a mental illness each year. Despite the prevalence of mental health issues, NAMI found that only 44.8 percent of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2019.
Allyson Timmons, licensed mental health professional and founder of Envision Therapy, often recommends “Emotional First Aid” to her clients. “Guy Winch provides insight into how we are taught from infancy to care for our bodies but not our minds. He challenges us to cater to our emotions just as much as we do the body,” she explains. When it comes to emotional injuries, a band-aid doesn’t suffice. Winch provides a strategy to treat the mind’s bruises.
Mark Wolynn has been recognized around the world as a leading expert on the subject of inherited family trauma. In his 2016 release, “It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle,” he dissects how the trauma of relatives can be passed down the family tree. Wolynn believes this trauma can cause depression, anxiety, phobias, and chronic pain despite it not happening directly to the reader.
The highly reviewed book has shared therapy tactics and scientific research that therapists within the industry have applied with their own clients. Alexanndra Kreps, MD, was one professional who contributed a blurb on the informative work where she writes, “I found myself immediately able to apply Mark Wolynn’s techniques with my patients and saw incredible results, in a shorter time than with traditional psychotherapeutic techniques.”
When approaching trauma, it is best to consult a mental health professional before diving into work that could be triggering. One Amazon reviewer cautioned, “I would say you have to be ready to face these things and it is most definitely not a light read.”
When it comes to self-help, “The Four Agreements” may quickly come to mind. Shamanic teacher and healer Don Miguel Ruiz writes about self-limiting beliefs and a practical code of conduct learned from his Toltec ancestors. Before you write off “The Four Agreements” for sounding too “woo-woo” for your liking, know there’s a reason for its decade-long hold on the New York Times bestseller list.
The four agreements are simple: be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. “The book teaches that if we have an awareness of four principles, we can improve our lives drastically,” explains Timmons, who recommends books to her clients. While the lessons sound simple, Ruiz’s work shines through his powerful storytelling.
Ruiz’s simple principles have been touted by inspirational gurus like Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. Aside from a star-studded list of fans, licensed mental health professionals like Timmons find that “The Four Agreements” can provide “insight into how we are shaped to be a certain way.”
“Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love” explores the idea of attachment theory, a concept first introduced by British psychologist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby. While attachment theory has long dissected the impact that our early relationships with parents or caregivers have on who we become, the theory can be applied to our closest life relationships. Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Amir Levine and psychologist Rachel Heller teamed up in “Attached” to provide a modern understanding of attachment theory and how it can help us find love.
“Attached is a sigh of relief for anyone who struggles with anxiety and navigating conflict,” says Danielle Friedman, LMHC, Free Space Counseling. She finds that the book serves a deeper purpose by teaching the reader “that emotions are deeply rooted in one’s upbringing.”
According to attachment theory, there are three common ways people behave in relationships depending on whether they are anxious, avoidant, or secure. By helping readers determine their own attachment style, the book helps readers navigate their relationships and understand themselves.
“[Attached] gives them answers and reasons for why they emote and respond the way they do to others, especially those they care for deeply,” says Friedman. “This book takes the reader on a step by step journey towards understanding how we relate to one another, while updating the way we see ourselves,” she continues.
Author Elaine Aron, PhD, identifies as a highly sensitive person (HSP) and has been researching sensitivity for 20 years. She authored “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You” and its subsequent counterparts, “The Highly Sensitive Person in Love” and “The Highly Sensitive Child.” While HSP sounds like buzzy therapy speak or an outlier in mental health, Aron says 15 to 20 percent of the population are highly sensitive.
HSPs can feel overwhelmed by their physical surroundings like bright lights, crowded spaces, blaring sounds, and strong smells. They may avoid violent films out of a fear of feeling too much, feel flustered by a busy schedule, and find themselves drained after too much socialization.
While HSPs are often overstimulated, it isn’t all bad. Aron finds that they notice the minute details that add beauty and color to life. She feels sensitive people have the unusual ability to sense subtleties, avoid errors, and concentrate deeply. Aron uses case studies, self-tests, and exercises to help readers cope with their overarousal and overcome social discomfort. Rejoice in your sensitivity by using “The Highly Sensitive Person” to understand yourself and how this special trait impacts your personal life, love, and career.
“Loving Bravely” by Alexandra H. Solomon, PhD, is “my nearest and dearest for anyone wanting to find deep and meaningful relationships,” says Friedman. Friedman, who has worked through this book with clients and herself, finds that it “gently supports the reader to learn about themself and family in ways never considered.”
The author believes that real love starts with you, and shares 20 lessons to help readers commit to their emotional well-being and growth. Solomon, a psychologist and relationship expert, introduces the idea of relational self-awareness. By understanding your own strengths and weaknesses in relationships, she feels you can build a better foundation to love yourself and others.
“Though the focus of this book is getting the love you want, the reader will ultimately learn that in order to get it from others, they will have to give it to themselves first. This book teaches you how to do that,” explains Friedman.
When helping clients find a path toward self-improvement, Timmons likes to employ the lessons from Stephen R. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” She often recommends the book to clients who can use its self-efficacy tools to become more intentional. “This transformative book teaches its readers how to discard old ways and approach life from a different perspective — all leading to becoming a more effective and intentional individual,” she says.
The book has long been touted as a favorite within the business world, often found on the shelves of executive teams and company founders. Covey’s book, which has been in print since 1989, has also continued to draw admiration in self-help communities.
Of the book’s many lessons, it provides helpful principles for readers to find balance and prioritize areas of their life in an efficient and helpful way. Covey helps readers find a sustainable balance in life, take on responsibilities proactively, set out end goals, negotiate in a way that benefits everyone, and work well with others.
For those suffering from burnout or an inability to get organized, Covey’s tips could help signal a lightbulb to find a health routine and communicate effectively with others. The “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” has sold over 20 million copies, with 88 percent of reviewers on Amazon giving it a perfect five stars. Some Goodreads reviews found that the book followed the self-care formula of many and the information was repetitive. Still, many reviewers call the book “transformative” and “life-changing.”
Mental health books can be a fantastic resource and entry way into understanding psychology and the way the brain impacts mood, behavior, and thoughts. Picking up a book can be helpful no matter what your situation — whether you are working through your own mental health journey, brushing up on your self-care, or generally interested in psychology.
While these books can provide helpful tools to deal with mental health and stressors, they are not a substitute for therapy. When diving into a book about mental illness, it’s best to consult with a licensed mental health professional. Even better, you can work through your book with a therapist by your side.
Jillian Goltzman is a freelance journalist covering culture, social impact, wellness, and lifestyle. She’s been published in various outlets, including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Fodor’s Travel Guide. Outside of writing, Jillian is a public speaker who loves discussing the power of social media — something she spends too much time on. She enjoys reading, her houseplants, and cuddling with her corgi. Find her work on her website, blog, Twitter, and Instagram.