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The 7 best mental health books to read right now

Finding the right book is a hard task, so here are 7 mental health books to educate you on the stuff that matters.

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Ed Cunningham
Ed Cunningham
Guest Author
May 26, 2022
7 min read

Books are a means to escape, to learn, or simply to enjoy a few moments for yourself. For Ed Cunningham, host of the chart-topping podcast A Need To Read, mental health books have been a saving grace during the pandemic.

In this post, he talks about how reading can help ease your mind, and 7 must-read books to improve your mental health.

Article breakdown

Mental health books

Disagreements have been commonplace in almost every household throughout the last 18 months. Who makes the best banana bread? Team lockdown or team freedom? To mask or not to mask? There is however something we all seem to agree on; the pandemic has had worrying implications on our mental health. 

Our connection to community was ripped from underneath us at the start of the pandemic and many people have since experienced loneliness. As outlined by Johann Hari in his book Lost Connections, connection to others is key for our mental health. It then comes as no surprise, then, that more than 20% of adults reported some form of depression in early 2021.

Whilst we've been encouraged to take time to exercise daily and to stay inside, something major was omitted from government guidelines. What were we to do with our time inside? Zoom meetings, miniature bake-offs, and family quizzes served a purpose but as with all stressful situations, it’s important to take time to switch off and use the disconnect to your advantage. 

My favourite way to do this (and help my mental health in the process) is: Pick up a book. 

There are many books about mental illness, mental health, and finding happiness in dark times. Educating yourself on these topics provides you with some of the tools you need to work towards a happier and healthier mind.

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What books should I read for mental health?

Really, any book! Simply the act of reading itself can help improve your mental health. Reading a book for just 6 minutes can reduce stress by up to 68%, similar to the effects of a low-intensity yoga flow.

That said, with the mental health epidemic we are facing becoming more and more prevalent, it’s important now more than ever to educate yourself on relevant topics. Therefore, books on the emotional, habitual, and neuroscientific factors are great to read for your mental health. If not for yourself, for those around you.

Knowing that you’ve made a difference to a friend who’s in a slump by giving them effective advice is one of life’s greatest pleasures. We all want to make a difference somehow, right? That feeling is amplified when you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to help them without reading the books you’ve read. 

7 mental health books to read right now

Here are 7 of the best mental health books, that I believe can make a difference and improve your wellbeing. 

1. The Chimp Paradox - Prof. Steve Peters

Wouldn’t it be good to gain a deeper understanding of the inner workings of our immensely complicated minds? The Chimp Paradox is one of the best self-help books for mental health. It simplifies the complex neuroscience of our minds into a metaphor that is incredibly easy to understand. Being able to recognize when your Monkey Mind is in control is a giant leap forward in improving your mental health. If you’re a fan of metaphors, you’ll be a fan of the Chimp Paradox.

2. Atomic Habits - James Clear 

Behaviour change has a huge part to play in improving your mental health. Whether you’re looking to rid yourself of the habits that are negatively impacting your life, or build healthy habits that will yield massive returns in the long run then look no further than Atomic Habits. James Clear provides a comprehensive guide to behaviour change and will help you understand the power of tiny changes. If you find yourself starting each week with good intentions and falling off the wagon come Thursday, this book will be a great place to start.

3. The Happiness Trap - Dr. Russ Harris

The internet is consistently bludgeoning us with images of people who look to have the most fulfilling life and we, therefore, perceive them to be insanely happy. All the while we’re sat there on our second cry for the day wondering why we aren’t happy all of the time. Well, the internet is misleading. The Happiness Trap will help you acknowledge that the illusion of ‘always happy’ is just that, an illusion. And stop you from fighting against the quite natural negative feelings that are part of life. 

4. Happy - Derren Brown 

The aptly titled book by the magic man himself explores happiness from a plethora of different philosophical standpoints, with a modern twist. Have you wondered how much you’ll need to earn to be happy, or whether your thoughts can really impact your feelings? This is one of my must-read books on mental health for anyone looking to assess what happiness really means to them, how to achieve it daily, and understand how your attitude may be holding you back a little.

5. Emotional Agility - Susan David

What if you didn’t have to run for shelter when it rained? What if you could accept it, and even dance in it? Emotional Agility is all about being able to sit with all of your emotions, even the undesirable ones. People say you have to feel it to heal it, and Susan David shows you how. If you are struggling with judging your negative emotions, and subsequently, almost accidentally, creating more—read this book.

6. The Book Of Rest - Gabrielle Brown & James Reeves

The majority of self-help books will highlight where you’re not enough, but Gabrielle and James say; ‘If only you’d stop looking, you’d find there is something fundamentally right with you.’ The Book Of Rest highlights the importance of stopping and doing nothing. A sometimes foreign concept in our distracted world. It’s very easy to constantly ‘do’ in the pursuit of cultivating more happiness or improving your mental health, but remember, we are human beings, not human doings. If even the thought of doing nothing makes you feel uneasy, then this is should go on your 'books for mental health' shelf.

7. Rising Strong - Brené Brown 

Often the cause of our declining mental health comes down to a shortfall in some area of our lives; a lost job, a failed relationship, or simply a broken promise to ourselves. In other words, our obsession with perfectionism. Owning your shortfalls and getting back on your feet after a failure is difficult, but Rising Strong is all about using the power of vulnerability to lighten the load a little bit. All too often we keep our shame inside, which creates a perpetual cycle of more and more hardship. This book will show you how to come back stronger than ever from whatever has caused you to fall. 

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What is the most influential book for mental health?

Everyone will have their own personal book that influenced and improved their mental health, and when you find it, I hope you treasure it forever. For me, I've found that these 7 books have been profoundly helpful and can certainly improve the way you think and feel.

Education on the philosophical, spiritual, emotional, and more practical pillars of life is key to gaining a comprehensive understanding of what makes you happy. If you’ve read those and are hungry for more then check out Co-Founder Dan’s top picks.

About the author

Ed Cunningham is a reader, writer and the host of the chart-topping podcast A Need To Read.

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