Mental health is such a vast topic. From dialectical behavioural therapy to the social determinants of mental health, it can be difficult to know where to begin. In honour of this year's Life on the Line campaign, we put together a list of mental health book recommendations from experts working in the field to help steer you in the right direction.
We asked the team at 'Family Outreach and Response', a unique Canadian Mental Health Association Toronto program (which served over 600 families last year), to share their favourite mental health books to improve the well-being of you and your loved ones.
If you want to support their program, you can donate directly on our website, or purchase one of ten unique limited edition signed and numbered art prints were 75% of all sales will be donated to the program.
Shannon O’Neill Q.Med, Family Mental Health Navigator, assists families navigate the mental health system in hospitals due to an admittance of a loved one, and then continues to support the family post discharge. Families receiving support during this time is a pivotal ingredient for recovery. Shannon believes this both through her own experience as a support person for a family member who struggles with their mental health as well as her professional experience working in the mental health field. The family support strengthens communication and connection which are necessary components to mental health recovery.
1. Empowered Boundaries: Speaking Truth, Setting Boundaries and
Inspiring Social Change
by Cristien Storm
Having a deep understanding of what is okay and what is not okay for you, and being able to communicate that in a kind, compassionate and non-judgemental way is a gift that you give to those that you love. This book shows how we create boundaries in preservation of the relationship by using communication for connection and not for combat. It explores what may be getting in the way of us establishing boundaries within our own relationships. It also shows how creating boundaries can be collaborative, honouring ourselves and recognizing our coexistence with others.
2. Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
by Thich Nhat Hahn
Anger, both the feeling of and the expression of, is something I find challenging to sit with. This book explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of anger. It provides guidance on how to sit with your own anger and how to be effective in a space with another’s anger.
With exquisite simplicity, Buddhist monk and Vietnam refugee Thich Nhat Hanh gives tools and advice for transforming relationships, focusing energy, and rejuvenating those parts of ourselves that have been laid waste by anger.
Liam Skinner brings to his practice ten years of experience providing counselling and psychotherapy services to individuals, families and groups in a variety of settings including private practice, community mental health organizations and social service agencies. His educational background and professional development have focused on relational, existential integrative and somatic therapies, as well as anti-oppressive and feminist approaches.
3. When Things Fall Apart:
Heart Advice for Difficult Times
by Pema Chodron
The beautiful practicality of her teaching has made Pema Chödrön one of the most beloved of contemporary American spiritual authors among Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. A collection of talks she gave between 1987 and 1994, the book is a treasury of wisdom for going on living when we are overcome by pain and difficulties. Chödrön discusses:
• Practices for reversing habitual patterns
• Methods for working with chaotic situations
• Ways for creating effective social action
• Ways for creating effective social action
• Using painful emotions to cultivate wisdom, compassion, and courage
• Communicating so as to encourage others to open up rather than shut down • Practices for reversing habitual patterns • Methods for working with chaotic situations
4. It Didn’t Start With You - How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle
by Mark Wolynn
Mark Wolynn is a leading expert on inherited family trauma. He is the winner of the 2016 Silver Nautilus Award in Psychology. As the director of The Family Constellation Institute in San Francisco, he has trained thousands of clinicians and treated thousands more patients struggling with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive thoughts, self-injury, chronic pain, and illness. A sought-after lecturer, he leads workshops at hospitals, clinics, conferences, and teaching centres around the world. He has taught at the University of Pittsburgh, the Western Psychiatric Institute, Kripalu, The Omega Institute, The New York Open Center, and The California Institute of Integral Studies. His articles have appeared in Psychology Today, Mind Body Green, MariaShriver.com, Elephant Journal and Psych Central, and his poetry has been published in The New Yorker. www.markwolynn.com
Elly Litvak, Family Navigation Coordinator, Ph.D. TLE, ‘The Lived Experience’ is a wellness and recovery specialist with over 25 years experience in mental health. She has established a variety of recovery-oriented programs within the Canadian mental health system and is currently with the Family Navigation Program at Family Outreach and Response. She is passionate about recovery, and utilizes her experiences of struggling and recovering from serious mental health issues to inform and provide hope to the families she supports.
5. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
by Kristen Neff
This ground-breaking book powerfully demonstrates why it's so important to be self-compassionate and give yourself the same caring support you'd give to a good friend. Kristin Neff, the world's foremost expert on self-compassion explains how to heal destructive emotional patterns so that you can live a healthier, happier, and more effective life. Mindful self-compassion has proven to be the most powerful tool in Elly’s recovery journey and she is honoured and grateful to be able to share these skills with the families she supports at Family Outreach and Response.
Julie Hansen, Early Intervention Family Worker, MSW RSW supports families to find mental health recovery and healing when a loved one is struggling. Julie believes in the power of relationships, especially within the family as catalysts for change. Mental health recovery and wellbeing starts with supportive and connected relationships and Julie knows this professionally as a Social Worker, and personally as a mother of 2 kids, and from her experiences in her own mental health recovery journey as a young adult. Julie also takes a critical approach to working alongside and within the mental health system to support empowerment and choice for the families she supports.
6. Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America
by Robert Whitaker
This book takes a deep dive into the history and rise of psychiatric medications and a critical look into the reasons why North America has seen such a dramatic increase in mental health issues and psychiatric medication use in the past decades. Anatomy of an Epidemic provides a jumping-off point for taking a more holistic approach to our own mental health and recovery journey. Interwoven with Whitaker’s groundbreaking analysis of the merits of psychiatric medications are the personal stories of children and adults swept up in this epidemic.
7. Hold on to Your Kids – Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers
by Gordon Neufeld Ph.D. and Gabor Mate, M.D.
I believe that relationships are at the foundation of mental health and wellbeing. This book reminds us of the importance of our relationship with our children, no matter what their age, especially as they grow into adulthood. Hold on to your Kids provides us with tools to connect with our loved ones and reminds us of the wisdom that we know deep down, that we have the power to be our loved one’s most powerful recovery tool.
Justean Lebel is a DBT-informed counselor offering counseling to individuals supporting a loved one experiencing emotion dysregulation. At present, she holds a dual clinical role at the Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto; both as a counselor with the Family Outreach & Response Program and as a member of the comprehensive DBT Support Program. In the latter position, she is currently pursuing DBT certification at the University of Toronto under Dr. Shelley McCain, Head of CAMH’s Borderline Personality Clinic. Justean is currently pursuing her MSW at York University with a research focus regarding the invaluable contribution of lived experience clinicians.
8. A Life Worth Living
by Marsha Linehan
This book is an inspiring memoir written by the founder of DBT, Marsha Linehan. She details her intense struggle with emotion dysregulation and her triumphant development of a support approach that would better meet the needs of millions of folks similarly struggling. In this remarkable and inspiring memoir, Linehan describes how, when she was eighteen years old, she began an abrupt downward spiral from popular teenager to suicidal young woman. After several miserable years in a psychiatric institute, Linehan made a vow that if she could get out of emotional hell, she would try to find a way to help others get out of hell too, and to build a life worth living.
9. Upstairs in the Crazy House
by Pat Capponi
This is the story of renowned Canadian survivor activist Pat Capponi’s journey into madness and her experience with Ontario’s mental health system. Ejected after three months from a mental health institution, she was sent to one of Toronto's notorious boarding houses. In Upstairs in the Crazy House, she relates the stories of those who called the appalling institution home.
Capponi also reveals how she suffered as a child at the hands of an abusive father and how, although she excelled academically, the repercussions of an adolescence infused with violence caused her to sink into deep depressions.
Gillian Gray MSW, RSW is the Program Manager of the Family Outreach and Response Program (FOR) with CMHA Toronto. Gillian has worked in the mental health field for the past 10 years in a number of capacities – community programming, research and policy. More recently, Gillian has developed unique training programs to build capacity for mental health workers to deliver family oriented and trauma informed care. Gillian holds an MSW from U of T and a BSc in Behavioural Neuroscience from McMaster University. In her spare time she enjoys spending time exploring the outdoors with her partner, toddler and Labrador Retriever.
10. Beyond Belief – Alternative Way of Working with Delusions, Obsessions and Unusual Experiences
by Tamasin Knight (e-book)
Tamasin Knight is a physician with lived experience of psychosis. This book provides an alternative way of understanding, and supporting, someone experiencing delusions or unusual beliefs. As opposed to a focus on eliminating these thoughts/beliefs, this book highlights an approach that focuses on helping the person cope with things as they perceive them to be. It is an empowering approach for people supporting someone who has chosen not to engage in mainstream psychiatric care. This guide truly embodies the recovery model as it focuses on how to support someone to live well with the presence of delusions/unusual beliefs. It is one that I often suggest to families supporting someone experiencing psychosis, particularly those who are losing hope because their loved one is not seeking mental health support.
Marian Dalal is an Early Intervention Family Worker, primarily working with ethno-racial families in the Scarborough area. Marian is committed to help, support, and empower families who have relatives with mental health issues. Marian immigrated to Canada in late 1980s with her brother. Shortly after their arrival in Toronto, her brother became unwell and was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. In the midst of so many limitations and barriers faced by new immigrants, Marian courageously took up the challenge of empowering herself with the education and skills to further enhance her ability to advocate for her brother. Notwithstanding her brother’s illness and other social barriers, Marian enrolled herself into Centennial College and graduated with a Diploma and later completed a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from York University.
11. THE POWER OF NOW: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
by Eckhart Tolle
This book is highly beneficial to families supporting a loved one with mental health diagnoses. Written by Eckhart Tolle, the book encourages readers the importance of living in the moment. It promotes the importance of accepting everything as is now and that any minute they spend worrying about the future or regretting the past is a minute lost. Reading this book can help families consider how living in the present moment leads to a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.
Calista Rajakariar, MBBS – Early Intervention Family Worker, is supporting multicultural families who seek knowledge about recovery and healing when their loved one is suffering from distress of mental wellbeing. She believes in strong family support in mental health recovery more than the medication. As a medical professional, she has been using her medical knowledge and other trained skills about anger management, DBT and emotion focused family therapy in supporting the diverse population of family members who are struggling to support their loved one with mental health issues.
12. What to Say to Kids When
Nothing Seems to Work
by Adele Lafrance, PhD and Ashley Miller, MD
This is an excellent creative guide every parent should read and it guides the parents in those moments when they feel demoralized. This book allows us to see things from a kid’s perspective and responding to their hidden emotional messages instead of their words and behaviour. I highly recommend this book to all parents and guardians who are raising children of all ages.
If you're interested in purchasing any of these books, please consider buying from small local businesses. We have compiled a short list of book stores for your convenience:
'Hard Feelings is an innovative, welcoming community of professional counsellors who provide low-cost services and support. Our storefront sells carefully curated books and resources to help build and sustain stronger mental health.'
'Caversham Booksellers is an independent specialised bookshop whose doors opened October 15th, 1989. The founders were Dr. Christine Dunbar (psychiatrist and psychoanalyst) and Peter Heyworth (Professor of English for thirty years at University College, University of Toronto). We specialise in providing books for mental health professionals both through our store and by mail throughout the world.'
'Book City was founded and is still operated by a family that goes back four generations in the book business. Perhaps this is why we at Book City stick to a more traditional method of book selling. We jam our bookcases full of new and backlist titles, pack our tables high with bargains, and staff our stores with people who love reading as much as our customers do.'
'A general interest, community bookstore in the east end of Toronto with something for everyone!'