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5 great books that deal with women and mental health

Women’s mental illness has been long portrayed in fiction. From Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical The Bell Jar to Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone — literature is a great repository of stories of women who are dealing with more than their fair share of psychological hurdles. Here are a 5 great reads.

Em and The Big Hoom

by Jerry Pinto

Brilliantly comic and almost unbearably moving, Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom is one of the most powerful and original fiction debuts of recent years, and certainly one of the most poignant works on mental illness from an Indian author. It tells the story of Imelda Mendes – Em to her family – who has bipolar disorder, her husband Augustine and their two children, as they live in their tiny flat in Bombay. When Em’s bipolar disorder seizes her, she becomes monstrous, sometimes with calamitous consequences for herself and others. The book is a with a one-of-a-kind voice that will stay with you long after the last page.

Mrs. Dalloway

By Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway is a classic read that details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a fictional high-society woman in post-World War I England. It is one of Woolf’s best-known novels, and criticizes the treatment of the mentally ill. Woolf used her own struggles with bipolar disorder to inform Septimus’s character – a shell-shocked veteran of World War I.

The Isolation Door

by Anish Majumdar

Priya, Neil’s beautiful and charismatic mother, is losing her prolonged battle with schizophrenia. After his mother experiences yet another breakdown, he must confront the painful reality of how his father, his aunt, and the doctors have dealt with her illness over the years, each in their own flawed way. And as his beloved mother falls farther into darkness, he will have to make the most difficult choice of his life: uniting with his family, or breaking free from them forever.

Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

by Marya Hornbacher

A vivid, honest, and emotionally wrenching memoir, Wasted is the story of one woman’s travels to reality’s darker side, her struggle with anorexia and bulimia — and her decision to find her way back on her own terms. Through five lengthy hospital stays, endless therapy, and the loss of family, friends, jobs, and all sense of what it means to be ‘normal,’ Marya Hornbacher lovingly embraced her anorexia and bulimia — until a particularly horrifying bout with the disease in college put the romance of wasting away to rest forever.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

by Kay Redfield Jamison

An Unquiet Mind is a memoir of enormous candor, vividness, and wisdom. Dr. Jamison isn’t just one of the foremost authorities on manic-depressive (bipolar) illness; she has also experienced it firsthand. Even as she was pursuing her career in academic medicine, Jamison found herself succumbing to the same exhilarating highs and catastrophic depressions that afflicted many of her patients, as her disorder launched her into ruinous spending sprees, episodes of violence, and an attempted suicide. A definitive book on manic depression, it examines manic depression from the dual perspectives of the healer and the healed.

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