Literature has been a classic tool to approach, first hand, lives and experiences that are far from our own and our understanding. Although fictionalized, these stories are a wonderful way to learn about mental disorders, how the people who go through them suffer, as well as their way of interpreting what happens to them, their explanation, their motivations, etc. In this way, we can learn to be a little more understanding with people who have mental disorders, because it is true that sometimes we do not understand why a person acts the way they do, and we believe that if we were in their situation, we would not behave like that (for example, “I could not be all day like her, lying in bed doing nothing” or “I don’t know why she takes life with such concern”).
These are some of the best known books of literature starring people who have mental disorders:
1. ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ by Virginia Woolf
Published in 1925, this is one of Virginia Woolf’s great classics. Apparently, ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ recounts a day in the life of an upper-class woman, traversing the thoughts of herself, Clarissa, to those of other characters , all from an omniscient narrator. In addition to the journey between minds, it is also done between temporary moments, all with a continuous narration that reminds us of our own cognition. However, what Woolf is really telling us in this work is the lives of various people with disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or anxiety, reflecting part of the emotional suffering of the author herself.
2. ‘The Bell Jar’, by Sylvia Plath
This novel was published in 1963. It is the only work of this genre written by its author, Sylvia Plath, who was entirely devoted to poetry. In it, Plath tells us in the first person the process of going into a depressive disorder, although through a fictional character and story, but actually telling us his own experience. One of the most accurate and painful accounts of the psychological suffering left as a shocking memory by the suicide of the author the month after its publication, when she was not yet over 30 years old. Everyone who reads ‘The Bell Jar’ is amazed.
3. ‘A Lonely Walk’ by Gul Y. Davis
With ‘A lonely walk’ we go to know the story of a young man who has spent his life in different institutions, from juvenile centers to psychiatric hospitals. With tinges, also, of autobiography , the novel makes a fierce criticism of this type of institutions as centers of violation of the integrity, dignity and own mental health of the people who pass through them. The experience of how what should make you improve immerses you even more in psychopathology.
4. ‘The effect of a butterfly’s flapping in Japan’ by Ruth Okezi
This novel takes us to know the why and how of the suicidal thoughts of a teenage girl, Nao, a character who narrates her thoughts in the form of a diary, and her father. What we can learn by reading ‘The effect of a butterfly’s flapping in Japan’ is how depression and suicidal thoughts originate in the circumstances of these two people’s lives, not what we think of as a “non-functioning mind well”. The cultural weight of the reasons why Nao’s father does not handle his dismissal well, and the lack of identity together with the bullying that affect the protagonist lead her down the same paths. What goes through a person’s head when they think about committing suicide? Nao can tell us.
5. ‘The man who mistook his wife for a hat’, by Oliver Sacks
This book is not fiction, but it tells in a very entertaining and anecdotal way different curious cases of patients that its author, the neurologist Oliver Sacks, had. They are patients with neurological disorders, where their perception or memory is clouded by specific brain damage. The title is not a mere hook, it actually tells how a man wanted to take his wife instead of the hat , without it being something unusual for her. Because they are not only behavioral disorders, but people can suffer from perceptual and cognitive alterations that take us away from reality