Autobiographical Accounts of Mental Illness

Canadian Mental Health Association. Moments.  Vancouver, British Columbia:  C. M. H. A., B.C. Division, 1995.

This book is a compilation of brief (1-2 page) descriptions, by mental health consumers, of special moments in their lives.  Each of the approximately two dozen mental health consumers who contributed to the book tells, via prose or poetry, about something of importance to his/her life or experience.

Casey, N. (2001). Unholy Ghost. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.

This is a collection of 22 essays written about depression. It includes personal experiences of one's own struggle with depression as well as the personal experiences of those with companions struggling with depression.

Colas, Emily. Just Checking:  Scenes From the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.

This book describes what it is like to live with Obssessive Compulsive Disorder. Through a series of brief vignettes that are both compelling and entertaining, the author describes her obsessive fears of contamination and the rituals they compel, as well as the toll those symptoms took on her life.


Duke, Patty & Hochman, Gloria. A Brilliant Madness: Living With Manic-Depressive Illness. New York: Bantam Books, 1992.

This book details the personal experience of a well-known Hollywood star who suffered from manic-depressive (bipolar) disorder. The book was the basis for the TV movie, Call Me Anna. It includes a good review of the clinical aspects of Patty Duke's disorder, as well.


Geller, Jeffrey L. & Harris, Maxine.  Women of the Asylum.  New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1994.

This book contains 26 first-person accounts of women who were placed in mental institutions against their will.  The writings are organized according to four time periods between 1840 and 1945, with each section introduced by commentary from the book's authors/editors.


Hauser, Marc & Hauser, Alisa. Images From Within: Portraits of People Confronting Mental Illness. IL: High Tide, 1999.

This unique book is not exactly an autobiographical account.  It is a serious of photographs of people with mental illnesses in ordinary settings, by a photographer known for his photographic portraits of famous people.   Each photograph is accompanied by quotes from the subjects.  Together, the pictures and statements represent people with mental illnesses with dignity, respect, hope, and humanity.


Jamison, Kay Redfield. An Unquiet Mind. New York.: A.A. Knopf, 1995.

Psychologist Kay Jamison is a leading author and researcher on bipolar disorder and on the possible links between mental illness and creativity. In this best-selling book, she recounts her own history of bipolar illness, combining the perspectives of patient, therapist, and researcher.


Kaplan, Bert (Editor). The Inner World of Mental Illness.  New York: Harper & Row, 1964.

This book is a compilation of writings by people with mental illnesses.  Some of these observations were written as long ago as 1840.  Some were recovered from scraps of paper discovered in psychiatric hospitals.  And some come from more famous sufferers of psychiatric disorder, such as Leo Tolstoi and Vaslav Nijinsky.  The book is out of print, however, and may be difficult to locate.


Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. New York: Random House, 1993.

Writer Kaysen describes her experiences of psychiatric hospitalization as a teenager in the 1960s. She offers witty and powerful observations about patienthood and psychiatric practice. Random House also offers an Audiobook, with Kaysen reading her own account. In addition, the book has been made into a movie, with Winona Rider in the starring role.


   Knipfel, Jim.  Quitting the Nairobi Trio.  New York: Penguin Putnam Press, 2000.

The author, a reporter for ……, describes his experiences of psychiatric hospitalization.  Knipfel recounts both the bizarre behaviors and beliefs that led to his hospitalizations and the details of his admission and treatment. With wit and incisive observation, he conveys the experiences of being in need of care, of being cared for, and of being devalued and dehumanized by even well-meaning caregivers

Lewis, M. (2002). Life Inside: A Memoir. New York: Washington Square Press.

First person account of a two year stay on a psychiatric ward. Her memoir portrays the close bonds and rivalries among adolescent patients, the politics and routines of the institution, the extensive use of medication, and the prevalence of life-altering misdiagnoses. Lewis describes her emergence into adulthood in the institution and her struggle to overcome institutionalization.


Manning, Martha. Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.

The author, a clinical psychologist, describes her struggle with depression. The book is written with both wit and insight. It helps readers to understand what it is like to experience depression, how difficult it can be to accept treatment for such a disorder, and how it is possible to cope and overcome the problem.

Nunes, J. & Simmie, S. (2002). Beyond Crazy: Journeys through Mental Illness. Toronto: The Canadian Publishers.

Beyond Crazy is a collection of inspirational stories of Canadians from all walks of life who have struggled with mental illness. The authors tell of how their lives were affected by mental illness and how they were able to overcome their obstacles and move on to lead successful lives.

Peterson, Dale (Editor). A Mad People's History of Madness.  University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.

This book examines the history of treatment of people with mental illnesses from 1436-1976 by means of excerpts from the writings of those who received such treatment.  It includes observations from a patient in the infamous Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam), from the famous Russian dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, and from successful author Mark Vonnegut.  It is a unique history presented through the eyes of individuals as they experienced it.  Unfortunately, the book is out of print and may take some searching to find.

Saks, E.R. (2007). The Center Cannot Hold. New York: Hyperion.

Writer Elyn R. Saks recounts her experiences living with schizophrenia. With the help of psychoanalytic therapy and medication, Saks has been able to live a life full of creative work, love, and friendships. She is now a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Southern California.

    Sattleret. al.  Abnormal Psychology in Context: Voices and Perspectives. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

This book is a collection of first-person accounts and narratives written by individuals who themselves have had psychiatric disorders of various kinds.  It was written to serve as a companion text for college psychology courses, adding the voices of real persons describing their experiences in their own words to the usual textbook description of symptoms and diagnosis.  Comments by therapist and relatives of those with mental disorders are included as well.


Schiller, Lori & Bennett, A. The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness. New York: Warner Books, 1994.

Lori Schiller's nearly 20-year struggle with schizophrenia is described by her in this book. Her story provides evidence for the value of persistence and determination and demonstrates that recovery is possible even for those whose disorders have been previously resistant to change. The book also includes chapters by Ms. Schiller's mother, father, and brother, revealing what it is like for family members to struggle with a serious mental illness in a loved one.


Shannonhouse, Rebecca (Editor). Out of Her Mind: Women Writing on Madness.  New York: Random House, 2000.

This book contains excerpts from writings by women about mental illnesses.  Some are autobiographical accounts.  Others are fictionalized versions of the authors' experiences, while one or two are observational accounts from visits to psychiatric institutions.  Authors featured in the book include Sylvia Plath, Susanna Kaysen, Kate Millet, Dorthea Dix, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Elizabeth Cochrane (Nellie Bly).

Simon, L. (2002). Detour: My Bipolar Road Trip in 4-D. New York: Washington Square Press.

Author Lizzie Simon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager. Feeling as though something was missing from her life, Lizzie left her dazzling career as a theater producer behind and set out on a road trip in search of a “herd of her own” and herself. Part road trip, part love story, Detour is a memoir that may help to demystify mental illness.

Slater, L. (1998). Prozac Diary. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc.

Lauren Slater was one of the first people to take the drug Prozac for mental illness. Prozac Diary is her account of how her life was transformed by the drug, and how she adjusted. 

Styron, William. Darkness Visible. New York: Random House, 1990.

In this short but powerful book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Sophie's Choice describes his plunge into depression and helps readers to understand how depression can make even the most successful life bleak and joyless.


Thompson, Tracy.  The Beast: A Journey Through Depression.  New York, Penguin Books, 1995.

In this book, newspaper reporter Tracy Thompson describes her long struggle with depression, which she refers to as "the Beast."  Thompson describes her girlhood, her family, and the onset of depression relatively early in her life.  She also describes the persistent reoccurrence of depression throughout her lifetime, but, at the same time, reveals her own perseverance, coping, and successes.


  West, Cameron.  First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple.  New York: Hyperion, 1999.

In this New York Times bestseller, Cameron West recounts his experience of Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personality).  At the close of book, West was still being treated for this condition, which, according to the author, has involved the emergence of more than 20 different personalities.