When life presents challenges or overwhelm takes hold, it can feel like being stuck in a dark tunnel alone. These moments can be scary and stressful and cause feelings of uncertainty. It’s as if not knowing what to do causes one to stand in place, going nowhere.
Many people live in this state of paralysis every day. According to the CDC, one in five Americans will experience some form of mental illness in a given year. While some may endure brief periods of mental health struggles such as bouts of anxiety, others might have spent their entire lives in a metaphoric dark tunnel of depression, not even aware of the possibilities for freedom and joy.
Mental health books can be an incredible tool for teaching people how to navigate their struggles. They can serve as a roadmap, helping you not only understand where to go but also the path that led you there and why. This insight is critical for living a healthy, happy, and abundant life that is free from worry.
Fight adversity and begin your journey out of the tunnel today with our top 15 list of books about mental health.
15 Best Mental Health Books for 2023
- The Four Agreements
- The Body Keeps the Score
- This Too Shall Pass
- It Didn’t Start With You
- Stop Overthinking
- The Power of Positive Thinking
- How To Do The Work
- What Happened To You?
- Make Your Bed
- Think Like a Monk
- A New Earth
- Living Untethered
- 12 Rules for Life
- The Wise Heart
1. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Page length: 168 pages
Publish date: November 7, 1997
Overview: Don Miguel Ruiz, a renowned spiritual teacher and bestselling author from Mexico, shares four simple rules for living. Following ancient Toltec philosophy, Ruiz uses The Four Agreements to reveal to the reader exactly how to transform one’s life by relinquishing self-limiting beliefs.
The Four Agreements are:
- Be Impeccable With Your Word
- Don’t Take Anything Personally
- Don’t Make Assumptions
- Always Do Your Best
In the book, Ruiz shares the importance of applying these principles to your life to live with true joy, happiness, and fulfillment.
2. The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Page length: 464 pages
Publish date: June 12, 2014
Overview: When we go through something traumatic, the feelings experienced from that event, such as anxiety, don’t just disappear with time. Instead, trauma is not only carried on throughout our lives but is also often passed down. If left unresolved, trauma can have profound long-term adverse mental and physical effects on the sufferer and the sufferer’s loved ones.
This is what trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk seeks to explain in The Body Keeps the Score. In the book, Kolk provides science-based studies and examples to illustrate inherited trauma’s effects on the mind and body. For most of us, these effects are so subtle and engrained in our lives that we don’t even realize them.
3. This Too Shall Pass by Julia Samuel
Page length: 338 pages
Publish date: March 5, 2020
Overview: In This Too Shall Pass, author and psychotherapist Julia Samuel aims to expand the reader’s perspective so that hardships can be met with courage. By sharing 19 powerful stories from everyday people’s intimate challenges of love, acceptance, and identity, Samuel provides reassurance that you are not alone and your troubles will pass.
This, coupled with recent psychological research, makes This Too Shall Pass great for anyone dealing with depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness.
4. It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn
Page length: 256 pages
Publish date: April 26, 2016
Overview: Following the studies of trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, It Didn’t Start With You takes a closer look at the source of mental health illnesses. Evidence suggests challenges like depression, anxiety, OCD, and chronic pain may not come from events that happen to us directly. Instead, Wolynn explains that a lot of the mental health challenges we carry are inherited from the events and experiences of our parents, grandparents, and further.
By understanding this concept, Wolynn hopes that people will be better equipped to heal from their challenges. It Didn’t Start With You aims to resolve long-standing mental health issues in a way that traditional Western medicine alone cannot do.
5. Stop Overthinking by Nick Trenton
Page length: 191 pages
Publish date: March 2, 2021
Overview: It can be easy to get entrapped by never-ending loops of negative thoughts when things aren’t going as planned. Yet, despite being one of the biggest causes of unhappiness and depression, overthinking is something we all do. This causes many to be consumed by needless worry, stress, and anxiety.
In Stop Overthinking, author Nick Trenton uses proven behavioral psychology techniques to help readers break this thought pattern. Trenton believes that by learning triggers, recognizing inner anxieties, and decluttering the mind, one can reduce stress and learn to live worry-free.
6. The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale
Page length: 128 pages
Publish date: October 1952
Overview: In The Power of Positive Thinking, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale demonstrates how readers can harness positive thought for improved quality of life. Using practical techniques, the reader learns how to use thought to be kind to themselves, improve personal and professional relationships, cultivate energy and ambition, and expect the best.
Dr. Peale believes that by practicing positive thinking and shifting to a growth mindset, one will begin to live a life of true fulfillment. “This book is written with the sole objective of helping the reader achieve a happy, satisfying, and worthwhile life,” Dr. Peale says.
7. How To Do the Work by Nicole LaPera
Page length: 320 pages
Publish date: March 9, 2021
Overview: Bad experiences, inherited trauma, mental exhaustion, and self-destructive behaviors can keep people in a negative place. Becoming unstuck, of course, can be difficult and messy, which is why many avoid or deny their challenges. For those willing to get dirty and do the work, however, true freedom and joy are possible.
How To Do the Work is a guide for anyone seeking holistic self-healing as a means of reclaiming their life. Dr. LaPera, a clinical psychologist, not only points to the latest research on holistic healing but shares the techniques that helped her along her own journey to happiness.
8. What Happened To You? by Oprah Winfrey
Page length: 304 pages
Publish date: April 27, 2021
Overview: Among the many great books about mental health, this one is for anyone who has ever done something and wondered afterward, “Why did I do that?” Through her own stories and experiences, and by teaming up with trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry, Winfrey helps readers to shift the question from “Why did I do that?” to “What happened to you?”
When behaviors don’t align with our personal understandings, we blame ourselves. These conversations, however, help reveal that behaviors are often symptomatic of past unhealed events, and not indicative of present failures. By explaining this concept, Winfrey hopes to provide renewed resilience and strength to whoever has behaviors they don’t quite understand.
9. Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven
Page length: 130 pages
Publish date: April 4, 2017
Overview: Admiral William H. McRaven delivered a commencement speech in 2014 to the University of Texas at Austin that was so powerful, it went viral. In the speech, McRaven shared the life lessons he learned from his career in the Navy that would help the students change their lives and the world. The lessons he shared weren’t complicated either. McRaven said small daily habits—like making your bed—can have a powerful impact on your life.
In Make Your Bed, McRaven imparts the same wisdom, advice, and encouragement he delivered during his speech to those facing new beginnings. This book is great for anyone looking for small, achievable ways to live courageously.
10. Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty
Page length: 328 pages
Publish date: September 8, 2020
Overview: Instead of going to college, like his parents wanted, author Jay Shetty spent three years in India becoming a monk. During this time, he meditated for four to eight hours each day and committed himself to helping others. Later in his journey, a monk told him he’d have a greater impact if he left and shared his experience with the world.
Think Like a Monk shares the lessons and experiences Shetty gained from his time in India. Before becoming a monk, Shetty had no life skills or direction. Today, he’s known virally as an influencer, host of one of the highest-ranking wellness podcasts, and was named in the Forbes 2017 “30-Under-30” list as a media game-changer. By sharing what he learned from monks, Shetty aims to help the reader transform stress, anxiety, and the unknown into a life of meaning, just like he did.
11. A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
Page length: 316 pages
Publish date: October 6, 2005
Overview: Following the bestselling book The Power of Now, author Eckhart Tolle expands on the concept of an awakened consciousness holding the key to true happiness. Tolle believes that one’s ego and subconscious beliefs lock humanity into paths of anger and paralysis. However, by becoming more aware of the egoic mind and how it operates, one can begin to shift from an ego-based state of consciousness to an entirely new one.
In A New Earth, the reader will not only discover how their subconscious beliefs influence daily behaviors but also how to rewire the mind. This, Tolle hopes, is what will help many to live and breathe more freely while having a positive impact on humanity as a whole.
12. Boundaries by Henry Cloud
Page length: 314 pages
Publish date: April 1, 1992
Overview: Sometimes, we want to help others so much that we dismiss boundaries that help and support ourselves. Worse, we might allow others’ opinions to shape our lives more than our own. Even if meant with good intentions, lacking personal boundaries essentially relinquishes our energy, time, and health to external sources.
In Boundaries, author Henry Cloud teaches us how to reclaim our lives and energy by honoring personal boundaries. Cloud provides example scenarios and how to answer them in a way that doesn’t compromise your own health and happiness.
13. Living Untethered by Michael A. Singer
Page length: 216 pages
Publish date: May 10, 2022
Overview: In Living Untethered, spiritual teacher Michael A. Singer explains how to break free from the external pursuits that ultimately cause feelings of emptiness. Instead, Singer shares that to experience true joy and a sense of meaning, one must turn inward and embark on a journey to examine the source of the thoughts keeping you “tethered.”
With actionable tips for the daily practice of openness and self-knowledge, Singer shows the reader how to disconnect from struggle and let the soul fly.
14. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson
Page length: 409 pages
Publish date: January 16, 2018
Overview: Drawing on nature and ancient wisdom as examples, author and psychologist Jordan B. Peterson seeks to show all that life can teach us. In his bestselling book, Peterson touches on the importance of understanding universal truths for success in our own lives.
In the 12 Rules of Life, Peterson breaks down the universal wisdom of discipline, freedom, resentment, and responsibility. Putting them into 12 practical rules, Peterson sets the reader up to better understand how cutting-edge science, nature, ancient tradition, and faith all connect—and what can be learned from each.
15. The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield
Page length: 429 pages
Publish date: April 29, 2008
Overview: Each person has the capacity to experience love, joy, freedom, and community. In The Wise Heart, author and trained monk Jack Kornfield harnesses the power of Buddhist psychology to lead the reader to the path of personal transformation.
In the book, Kornfield teaches readers how to approach life with mindfulness and loving-kindness. While The Wise Heart is full of transformational stories, it provides real insight into better controlling your mind, body, and spirit. At the end of every chapter, readers are given actionable lessons they can start practicing immediately. In doing so, audiences will begin learning how to awaken the heart and consciousness together so that love, joy, and freedom can be fully felt.
Other Habits for Improved Mental Health
A roadmap is only helpful if your steps and decisions align with it. The best mental health books are a great way to improve your mindset and boost positivity, but they alone can’t guide you through adversity. Caring for your mental health requires daily habits that support the mind and body in every way.
Other habits for nurturing strength and clarity:
- Practicing daily journaling
- Doing yoga or meditating
- Addressing any symptoms of work burnout
- Meeting with a licensed counselor
- Improving your diet and sleep hygiene
- Creating a vision board for your life
To practice self-improvement everywhere you go, continue on to explore The 10 Best Mental Health Apps.