17 Canadian books to read for World Mental Health Day
Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day. Here are 17 Canadian books that deal with mental health.
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.
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. The book is a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.
Helen Knott is a poet and writer of Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw and European descent. Her memoir, In My Own Moccasins, is a story of addiction, sexual violence and intergenerational trauma. It explores how colonization has impacted her family over generations. But it is also a story of hope and redemption, celebrating the resilience and history of her family.
- Helen Knott explores the connection between violence against Indigenous women and violence against the land
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.
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 is currently a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.
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.
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. Fire Song is a YA novel adaptation of Adam Garnet Jones's award-winning film of the same name.
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.
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.
Since his schizophrenia diagnosis 36 years ago, Olivier Martini has managed his illness with help from his mother and brothers, Clem and Nic. As their mother begins suffering from dementia, Olivier has a major health crisis. The story of how one family copes is presented as a comic, co-written by Clem Martini and Olivier Martini. The Unravelling is a moving and eye-opening read about navigating the health care system, finding long-term care and watching two people you love go through something difficult.
2018 marked the 10-year anniversary of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, the bestselling, groundbreaking book about addiction. Dr. Gabor Maté, now a retired physician, spent more than a decade working with addicts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. His book chronicles the lives of people struggling with addiction. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts is often cited by first responders and those affected by addiction, although Maté also has plenty of critics. Despite the book's lasting impact, Maté argues that empathy for those battling addiction is still lacking in 2018.
Nehiyaw writer Suzanne Methot traces her own roots to better understand how colonial trauma is passed down from generation to generation. In doing so, she investigates why Indigenous peoples suffer from disproportionately higher rates of addiction, depression, diabetes and other chronic health conditions compared to other groups. She also looks into Indigenous ways of knowing and how it can stem the flow of intergenerational trauma.
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.
Teresa Wong pens an honest and emotional letter to her daughter in the graphic memoir Dear Scarlet. The Calgary writer describes her experience with postpartum depression — how feelings of sadness, loss and guilt consumed her — and her many attempts at healing.
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. The book was defended by Lisa Ray on Canada Reads in 2019.
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. This novel is a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature — text.
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.