7 Health Initiatives Staff Book Picks for Mental Health & Well-Being

Books hold incredible power. They can teach us new things, pull us into fantastic storylines, challenge what we believe, and help us gain new perspectives. National Author’s Day (November 1st) is a day dedicated to celebrating books and the brilliant minds behind them. Perhaps one of the most challenging yet important topics that an author can tackle is mental health. Books on mental health are crucial to educating and changing the stigma around the topic, as well as promoting neurodiversity. In honor of this holiday, Georgia Tech Health Initiatives health educators shared their top mental health and well-being book recommendations. We highly recommend checking a few of these off over the upcoming holiday breaks!

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” 

The Bell Jar is the only novel written by the American writer and poet Sylvia Plath. The story follows a young woman, Esther Greenwood, after she gains a summer internship in New York City. Her experience is not what she expects, and her mental state quickly worsens.  Greenwood’s descent into mental illness parallels Plath's own experiences. The novel contains many important lessons about mental health. “Plath suffered from mental health disorders her whole life. In her only novel, she channels her personal history of depression and bipolar disorder into this fictional story of a woman's journey through young adulthood, suicidality, and the 1950's therapeutic experience,” said health educator Elaine Miller. “It is a must-read that shaped my view of not only historical mental health systems but also mental health and femininity today.”

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet

“It was the strangest thing: the very same abilities that had set me apart from my peers as a child and adolescent, and isolated me from them, had actually helped me to connect with other people in adulthood and to make new friends.”

Born on a Blue Day offers a unique first-hand perspective into the mind of a high-functioning, 27-year-old British autistic savant with Asperger's syndrome.  He can perform extraordinary calculations in his head, learn new languages in a week, and even broke the European record for digits of pi memorized and recited (22,514). Although Tammet is one of only about 50 people with synesthesia and autism, it makes an incredibly interesting read for anyone—and also offers themes that are universally applicable. “This autistic savant's autobiography is an extraordinary explanation of how his mind processes information,” said health educator Elaine Miller. “He describes how differently he sees the world and interacts with others. This would be a good read for anyone struggling with feeling different or not fitting into the typical mold.”

Goodbye Ed, Hello Me by Jenni Schaefer

“Real hope combined with real action has always pulled me through difficult times. Real hope combined with doing nothing has never pulled me through.”

Goodbye Ed, Hello Me is the story of Jenni Schaefer’s battle with and victory over her eating disorder. Schaefer tells of how she defeated her eating disorder (Ed) by learning to treat it as a relationship, not a condition— which enabled her to break up with Ed, once and for all. “This book portrays an accurate depiction of living with an eating disorder,” said health educator Jocelyn Resnick. “I think a lot of individuals can relate to the issues with the ‘inner critic’ and body image.”

Two Turns from Zero by Stacey Griffth

“My theory is to manage both the answer yes and the answer no, without feeling guilty about either!”

Two Turns from Zero is a health and fitness book written by self-empowerment expert and SoulCyle Senior Master Instructor Stacey Griffith. However, the book focuses on exercise (specifically spin classes), but also contains valuable lessons about mental health and how it relates to fitness. Griffith shows readers how to take the energy from your workout and use it to boost your emotional wellbeing. “Stacey Griffith does an excellent job of portraying real life hardships and how she channeled that energy into fitness,” said Resnick. “She also provides meditation techniques to help you find inner peace.”

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.”

Between the World and Me was written as a letter to the author’s son about the realities of being a black man in the United States. The book dives deep into the racism woven into American culture and reveals how socialization can impact mental health. “I recommend this book because it offers a unique perspective into the life, challenges, and hopes of navigating the world as a black man,” said health educator Deontez Wimbley. “It is suited for anyone looking to broaden their scope and understanding of the world in another person's eyes.”

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

“The face you give the world tells the world how to treat you.”

Sharp Objects is a novel that follows newspaper journalist Camille Preaker as she reports on a series of brutal murders. Camille just returned from a brief stay at a psych hospital and finds herself battling her own demons. “This fascinating book deals with a variety of mental health issues including alcoholism, severe depression, and Munchausen by Proxy,” said health educator Sarah Morales. “A page-turning thriller, Camille returns to her hometown to investigate the murders of two young girls and must unravel the psychological puzzle of her past to find the truth today.”

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

“The bargain was this: Admit the anxiety as an essential part of yourself and in exchange that anxiety will be converted into energy, unstable but manageable. Stop with the self-flagellating and become yourself, with scars and tics.” 

Monkey Mind articulates what it is like to live with anxiety. Smith unravels the different layers of anxiety and expresses the pain and absurdities of the disorder in a way that is both relatable and sincere. Smith grapples with the question of why he, a smart and capable man, is such a mess. “This is a great memoir because the author was able to describe what it’s like living with anxiety with emotion, depth, and most importantly humor,” said Morales. “This book put into words how someone living with anxiety moves through the world and helped me better understand how to support someone living with anxiety.”

It can be hard to prioritize your mental health and well-being, especially when you are pushed to prioritize academics, work, and extracurricular activities. This National Authors Day and thereafter, take time to check in on your own mental health. You can find additional resources on mental health at healthinitiatives.gatech.edu/mental.

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  • 7 Health Initiatives Staff Book Picks