Two must-read books about mental health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I don’t generally pay much attention to days/weeks/months devoted to raising awareness about a particular cause because I’d much prefer that we sustain our awareness of important things all year. However, I’m making an exception in this case to tell you about two brand new books that each have something important to contribute to the ongoing conversation about mental health.

Misty Pratt, author of All in Her Head, a book about mental health
Misty Pratt

The first is journalist and medical researcher Misty Pratt’s smart and insightful new book, All in Her Head: How Gender Bias Harms Women’s Mental Health (Greystone Books), a book that examines — and occasionally rages at — the challenges too many women face in gaining access to mental health care. She invites us to accompany her on a journey as she tries to make sense of her grandmother’s mental illness and her own mental health struggles — a journey that leads her to question broader, more systemic issues affecting girls and women.

“I needed to know why so many women struggle with their mental health, why the current treatment approaches aren’t working, and how we could envision a better model for treating women’s mental health,” she writes.

Meticulously researched and beautifully written, All in Her Head is one part memoir and one part medical mystery. In addition to delving deeply into her own experiences, Pratt shares the stories of other women who have had to work just as hard as she has to access the information and support they need. If you’ve ever felt frustrated or exhausted by painfully simplistic one-size-fits-all mental health advice, you’ll appreciate the wise and compassionate voice of Misty Pratt. Her key takeaway message? It doesn’t have to be this way. We deserve so much better.

And speaking about daring to imagine better, I’m excited to be able to tell you about another book that is all about journeying to a happier, healthier place: 52 Weeks to a Sweeter Life for Caregivers, Activists and Helping Professionals: A Workbook of Emotional Hacks, Self-Care Experiments and Other Good Ideas (Douglas & McIntyre). The brainchild of activist, community organizer, and social worker Farzana Doctor, the book is structured around a series of weekly and monthly activities designed to encourage you to take the best possible care of yourself and others.

Farzana Doctor, author of 52 Weeks, a book about mental health
Farzana Doctor

The book is unapologetically political. As Doctor points out in the early pages of the book, “Self-care is about resisting cultural ideas that value work and money over well-being. It’s about addressing socio-political barriers to taking care of ourselves and one another.” 

And in terms of what this means in personal terms, she spells that out clearly, too: “Self-care includes activities that take care of our body, mind, and spirit. They might include nutrition, pain and illness management, movement, leisure activities, rest, sleep, our home environment, our social lives or our connection with nature, and faith. Self-care might include a list of things that we want to say yes to, as well as a list of things that we need to say no to.”

What I love most about this practical and accessible guide is that it encourages you to practice self-care and community care — the two key ingredients in the recipe for a very sweet life indeed.