I want to share some of the books I have read lately. I am fascinated by the brain and know that we live in a remarkable time of discovery about the brain. I am also particularly interested in learning more about brain illnesses (aka mental illnesses). I think many of us have been touched by mental illness in some way – whether we experience a debilitating illness, periods of anxiety or depression, or have a family member who is affected.

I recently stumbled upon a book by Danielle Steel at the library called “His Bright Light.” It’s the story of her son, Nick Traina, who died of an overdose/suicide at the age of 19.

I have read a few Danielle Steel’s books in the past. The Promise was the first, I think, and one that I still love. However, her books became too depressing and I stopped reading them – much like Nicholas Sparks’ books to me. My tastes lean toward nonfiction. This account of Danielle raising her son is heartbreaking on so many levels.  Her son had a beautiful and tortured mind, as exhibited by the writing included in the book. It took a long time for him to be properly diagnosed. It highlights the state of mental health care in our country. We have greater insight into mental illness and many resources available, yet it can be a challenge to access the right help.  Danielle Steel writes:

“I am a capable, reasonable, rational, intelligent, fairly strong-willed, competent person, with ample funds at my disposal, terrific resources, and an ability to get things on track quickly. If I couldn’t make things happen for Nick, and get help for him, I shudder to think at what happens to people who are too shy or too frightened to speak up, people who don’t know their way around, or have someone like Julie to help them.  …..All I can say is, given what I know now, if you believe that someone in your care is suffering from manic depression, or a similar illness, and you feel your’re not getting the help you need for them, don’t wait, don’t screw around, don’t be patient, try something else. Try ever route you can lay your hands on to help them. There are a lot of doctors out there, some good, some bad, some lazy, some brilliant, some stupid, some who care others who don’t and some who will help you and really make a difference. You have a right to what you need, someone who cares about your loved one and will help you. Do everything you can to find people who will help you. Keep trying, keep asking, keep begging. It makes all the difference in the world to find a good doctor and you have a right to do that. Always listen to your instincts. You know the patient better than they do.” (p. 126)

These are powerful words and ones with which I agree. Caregivers have to advocate for their family members who are affected by mental illness. Go to doctor visits with them. Change doctors if necessary. Question everything. Research. Learn. So many illnesses are tied in with addictions, as well. In Nick Traina’s case, there were drugs. But were drugs being used to self-medicate? The suicide rates are very high for those who suffer from bipolar illness. The author states that 60% of those who are manic-depressive will attempt suicide and 30% will die.

If you suffer from anxiety or know someone who does, you may enjoy Scott Stossel’s book, My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope Dread and the Search for Peace of Mind. The book has a wealth of information on the history of anxiety as well as current treatments. It is written by a person who suffers from anxiety and is, at times, quite hilarious! The main point to me is that there is often not a “cure” for those who suffer from anxiety. There are many methods of coping with debilitating anxiety, but it is usually something that people learn to live with.

Another interesting book is Coming of Age on Zoloft by Katherine Sharpe. The author shares her account of discovering so many of her peers were on antidepressants while she was in college. She also gives a history of the illness and the drugs being used to treat it. She questions whether and how being on medicine affects one’s identity.

Some other books I have read:

The Soloist by Mark Salzman

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar

Out of the Shadows by E. Fuller Torrey

The first two are movies, also – both very powerful. I think A Beautiful Mind has to be one of my favorite movies. It truly shows what it is like to live with a mental illness. E. Fuller Torrey’s book is also excellent. Brain illnesses have to be one of the most cruel illnesses. With as far as we have progressed in understanding them, there is still stigma associated with them.

I think families should be very open about sharing mental health histories as there is an obvious DNA component to them. It is helpful to know what signs to look for so that we can reach out and support those who may encounter a debilitating illness for the first time.

If you have read any interesting books on the subject of mental illness, please share them with me.