15 Canadian books to read about mental health

Here are 15 Canadian books that deal with mental health.

Here are 15 Canadian books that deal with mental health.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott

Alicia Elliott is the author of A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. (Doubleday Canada, Ayelet Tsabari)

Alicia Elliott explores the systemic oppression faced by Indigenous peoples across Canada through the lens of her own experiences as a Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River. Elliott examines how colonial violence, including the loss of language, seeps into the present day lives of Indigenous people, often in the form of mental illness. Elliott, who lives in Brantford, Ont., won gold at the National Magazine Awards in 2017 for the essay this book is based on.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground was on the shortlist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Elliott is a Tuscarora writer living in Brantford, Ont. She was chosen by Tanya Talaga as the recipient for the 2018 RBC Taylor Emerging Writer Award. CBC Books named Elliott a writer to watch in 2019.

A panel discussion on mental health with Alicia Elliott, David Alexander Robertson and Sarah Leavitt, recorded at Calgary's Imaginarium at Wordfest in October.

Angry Queer Somali Boy by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali

A young Black man looking pensively at the camera.
Angry Queer Somali Boy is a memoir by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali. (Philip Sutherland, University of Regina Press)

Angry Queer Somali Boy is a memoir by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali, a young man who left Somalia, spent time in the Netherlands and ended up homeless in Canada. Canada was the promised land, but when he didn't fit in and life was more difficult than he expected, Ali turned to drugs and partying before finding his way. 

Angry Queer Somali Boy combines Ali's personal story with the history of and commentary on the places he's called home: Somalia, Europe and Canada. It's his first book.

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

Jesse Thistle is the author of From the Ashes. (CBC)

Jesse Thistle has earned many honours for his work in academia, including the 2016 Governor General's Silver Medal. He is also a Trudeau and Vanier Scholar. He specializes in Indigenous homelessness, a topic he understands all too well. Abandoned by his parents and raised by his difficult grandparents, Thistle struggled with addiction as an adult and spent 10 years homeless. He shares his story of overcoming his circumstances in the memoir, From the Ashes.

From the Ashes will be defended by George Canyon on Canada Reads 2020. It's Thistle's first book.

    Jesse Thistle talks to Shelagh Rogers about his best selling memoir, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way.

    Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me by Anna Mehler Paperny

    Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me is a memoir by Anna Mehler Paperny. (Random House Canada)

    Anna Mehler Paperny is a journalist who has struggled with depression her entire life. After a suicide attempt in her 20s, she decided to look into her disease: how it's caused, treated and talked about. Part memoir, part investigation, Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me is a examination of an illness that is far too common and far too little understood. 

    Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me was on the shortlist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

    Paperny is a Canadian journalist. Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me is her first book. 

    During the many years author Mike Barnes has been caring for his mother, Mary, who has dementia, he felt the desire to write about the issues he confronted day-to-day. His book is called Be With: Letters to a Caregiver.

    Be With by Mike Barnes

    Mike Barnes is a poet and author based in Toronto. (Biblioasis, Mike Barnes)

    When Mike Barnes became his mother's caregiver after she began showing signs of dementia, he started writing daily reflections about the stress he experienced. These reflections eventually formed the basis of his new book, Be With: Letters to a Caregiver, which is a collection of vignettes and reflections on caring for his mother.

    Barnes is a Canadian-American writer who has published more than 10 books, ranging from poetry collections to novels to nonfiction. His first short story collection, Aquarium, won the Danuta Gleed Award.

    Director Adam Garnet Jones reflects on what the Canadian community at large still needs to understand about why Indigenous people "don't just leave" the reservation.

    To the River by Don Gillmor

    To the River is a memoir by Don Gillmor. (Ryan Szulc, Random House Canada)

    When David Gillmor disappeared more than 10 years ago, his truck and cowboy hat were found at the edge of the Yukon River. His body was recovered six months later, just as his brother Don Gillmor journeyed to Whitehorse to canoe through the waters his brother had departed from. To the River explores how survivors of suicide cope with a loved one's decision to take their own life by looking at Gillmor's brother's story and the larger social, cultural and psychological questions surrounding suicide, especially among middle-aged men. 

    To the River won the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

    Gillmor is a Toronto journalist and author of novels and nonfiction books like Canada: A People's History. He has twice been nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award in the young people's literature — text category for The Fabulous Song and The Christmas Orange.

    Carrianne Leung on her collection of linked short stories, "That Time I Loved You," which goes behind the closed doors of a neighbourhood in 1970s Scarborough.

    Waiting for First Light by Roméo Dallaire, with Jessica Dee Humphreys

    Waiting for First Light chronicles Roméo Dallaire's struggles with PTSD. (Random House Canada, Laura Leyshon)

    Romeo Dallaire saw the horrors of the genocide in Rwanda up close when he was a Canadian general representing the UN. He wrote about the experience in the seminal book Shake Hands with the Devil. He followed that book up with Waiting for First Light, which discusses how Dallaire struggled with PTSD in the years after his time in Rwanda and how the experience impacts him and his mental well-being to this day.

    Waiting for First Light was a finalist for the RBC Taylor Prize.

    Dallaire is a Canadian humanitarian, retired senator and general. He has written three books, Shake Hands with the DevilWaiting for First Light and They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children. He was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2002.

    When Terese Marie Mailhot published her debut memoir, Heart Berries, she couldn't have predicted the response. It was met with rave reviews, and quickly became a New York Times bestseller.

    Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones

    Fire Song is a YA novel by Adam Garnet Jones. (Annick Press)

    Fire Song is a YA novel adaptation of Adam Garnet Jones's award-winning film of the same name. Following his sister's suicide, Shane, a gay Indigenous​ teenager in Northern Ontario, struggles to support his family. Shane is eventually forced to choose between his family's home and his own future. 

    Jones is a Canadian filmmaker and writer. Fire Song is his first book.

    Lindsay Wong talks to Shelagh Rogers about her debut book, The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family. (CANADA READS SELECTION)

    That Time I Loved You by Carrianne Leung

    Carrianne Leung is a writer and educator based in Toronto. (HarperCollins, Sarah Couture McPhail)

    In That Time I Loved You, residents of a small suburban neighbourhood in Scarborough, Ont., take turns describing the aftermath of a series of shocking suicides in their community. These interconnected short stories explore a wide range of experiences — racism, homophobia, domestic and sexual abuse — revealing that hard truths can be hidden within a well-kept home.

    That Time I Loved You won the 2019 Daunta Gleed Literary Award for short fiction.

    Carrianne Leung is an educator and fiction writer from Toronto. She is also the author of the novel The Wondrous Woo.

    David Chariandy talks to Shelagh Rogers about his book brother, which is a 2019 Canada Reads contender.

    Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

    Terese Marie Mailhot is a writer from Seabird Island, B.C. (Isaiah Mailhot, Penguin Random House Canada)

    Terese Marie Mailhot traces her life story from a dysfunctional upbringing on Seabird Island in B.C., with an activist mother and abusive father, to an acceptance into the Masters of Fine Art program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico. This slim poetic volume packs a powerful punch in just 140 pages.

    Heart Berries was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction and the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

    Mailhot​ is in the creative writing faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she graduated with an MFA in fiction. Heart Berries is her first book.

    Brian Francis talks to Shelagh Rogers about his new YA novel, Break in Case of Emergency.

    The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong

    Lindsay Wong's memoir The Woo-Woo was defended on Canada Reads 2019 by Joe Zee. (CBC)

    This dark, witty and touching memoir by Vancouver-based writer Lindsay Wong takes a look at the impact of mental illness on families. Wong delivers an honest and emotional look at whispered secrets, dysfunctional relationships — and how her grandmother, mother, aunt and even herself initially blamed the mythical "woo-woo," Chinese spirits that plague the living, for their mental health issues. The memoir is equal parts blunt, honest and hilarious.

    The Woo-Woo was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction and was defended on Canada Reads 2019 by Joe Zee.

    Wong is a writer from Vancouver. The Woo-Woo  is her first book. Her YA novel, My Summer of Love and Misfortune, will be published in May 2020.

    Dear Scarlet by Teresa Wong

    Dear Scarlet is a graphic memoir by Teresa Wong. (Arsenal Pulp Press, Ken Hurd)

    Teresa Wong pens an honest and emotional letter to her daughter in Dear Scarlet. The comic describes her experience with postpartum depression — how feelings of sadness, loss and guilt consumed her — and her many attempts at healing. 

    Wong is based in Calgary. Dear Scarlet is her first book. CBC Books named Wong a writer to watch in 2019.

    Brother by David Chariandy

    Brother is a novel by David Chariandy. (Penguin Random House, CBC)

    David Chariandy's Brother takes us inside the lives of the mixed heritage sons of Trinidadian immigrants. Rooted in Chariandy's own experience growing up as a person of colour in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, the novel is a beautiful meditation on discrimination, agency, grief and the power of human relationships.

    Brother won the 2017 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, the 2018 Toronto Book Award and the 2018 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. The book was defended by Lisa Ray on Canada Reads in 2019.

    Chariandy is based in Vancouver. He is also the author of the novel  Soucouyant and the nonfiction book  I've Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter.

    Break in Case of Emergency by Brian Francis

    Break in Case of Emergency is a YA novel by Brian Francis. (HarperCollins, Samuel Engelking)

    Break in Case of Emergency follows Toby Goodman, a teen whose father left their small town before she was born and whose mother dies by suicide when she's a young girl. When she finds out that her estranged father is coming back to town and wants to meet her, Toby must try to make sense of her life amid surprising revelations about her family history.

    Break in Case of Emergency was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.

    Brian Francis is a writer and columnist for The Next Chapter on CBC Radio. His first novel, Fruit, was a finalist for Canada Reads 2009. He is also the author of the novel Natural Order.

    The Ghost Garden by Susan Doherty

    Susan Doherty is the author of The Ghost Garden. (Penguin Random House)

    Susan Doherty shares the stories of the patients at the Douglas Institute, a psychiatric hospital in Montreal where the author has been volunteering for a decade. One of the patients is a woman in her 60s named Caroline Evans (a pseudonym), whom Doherty has known since childhood. Caroline describes how her schizophrenia began to surface in her teenage years and the ways she's been failed by the Canadian health and justice system.

    Doherty is a writer based in Montreal. She is also the author of the novel A Secret Music.