There’s much for us to gain by talking about mental health.
Globally, talking about mental health brings the topic of mental health and its challenges and disorders out of the dark shadows and into the sunlight. It can be seen and heard and felt. It can even be tasted: NAMI Seattle holds an annual Depressed Cake Shop (an event that began in the UK and is spreading around the planet), an event that raises both funds and awareness.
Individually, having mental health conversations legitimizes the fact that hey, we all face challenges—whether or not they’re diagnosable as a mental illness—and allows us to share experiences, feel normalized, and develop strategies for maintaining optimum mental health. How, though, does one easily and safely go about talking about mental health? Through a book club, of course.
I started a book club with my local NAMI chapter. In short, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is an organization that provides support and education for people living with mental illness and for family members/care givers of people living with mental illness. People whose lives have been touched by mental illness in some way can enhance their mental health and wellbeing through NAMI’s services.
Even in such a supportive environment, it can be difficult to talk about mental health when it’s so personal. The Wellbeing & Words Book Club, like all book clubs, offer a way to discuss tough issues in a safe way—through characters and setting and plot and storyline that is tucked safely between covers.
Books aren’t a way to hide, though; instead, they’re a way to express. They humanize the broad concept of mental illness. Books and their clubs spark open-ended questions and encourage exploration and discussion. Mental health books, both fiction and nonfiction, show what mental illness is like. They inspire hope of recovery.
In the Wellbeing and Words Book Club, participants naturally and comfortably share their own stories as they relate to the book. Books offer a safe platform on which to walk. Some participants prefer to discuss only the books themselves, and they can do so without the pressure to get personal. It is, after all, a book club rather than a support group. The support that happens comes naturally through the books themselves.
Interested in starting a mental health book club? These tips might be useful:
- Find a local organization to host. Many organizations welcome new ideas and the chance to enhance the way they serve their communities.
- Hate the idea of asking an organization to host? That’s okay! Start your own. Most general book clubs meet on their own, usually at someone’s house or a restaurant, and initially involve just a few friends or acquaintances.
- Use Goodreads to develop a list of mental health books. You can search their lists for such books.
- As you read, jot down topics that stand out to you and use those as starting points.
- Focus on takeaways. What did each member gain from the book that he/she can use in daily life?
Perhaps I’m biased about the power of mental health books, as that’s what I write. I do so intentionally because books have the power to influence lives, to increase understanding, to develop empathy. Sharing books with others is a great way to talk about mental health in a new way.