Taking on Stigma and Pressing for Resilience, Book by Book
“Resiliency is the transformative process in life that changes the dark coal of adversity into a brilliant clear diamond of strength. It is the force that energizes us to grow through diversity or change by discovering our own resources, abilities, and strengths.” —R. Murali Krishna, Vibrant: To Heal and Be Whole (2012)
The stigma and often subsequent discrimination attached to mental disorders is an ailment not unique to any one country or any one type of national healthcare system—the stigma can stifle proper medical treatment, and as the organization SANE Australia puts it: “Media shapes our attitudes, and accurate and positive stories about people who live with a mental illness can tell us how people manage their symptoms and live with hope.” This Australian nonprofit goes on to explain that when stigma occurs in the media, it conforms to inaccurate stereotypes, and it often misrepresents people with mental illness as violent, comical, or incompetent, which can be dehumanizing and can provoke further distress and reluctance to seek treatment.
The following list is a cross-section of memoirs published in the past decade that tell frank, heartfelt, and hopeful stories that leave the reader with understanding and empathy, perhaps a few laughs along they way, and, most importantly, comfort that none of us are ever alone in our battles.
Krishna’s personal memoir on finding his own resilience through adversity is interspersed with an intelligent and compassionate approach to treating the mind, body, and spirit in a book that instructs as much as it inspires. This Indian American psychiatrist writes with a unique perspective rooted in his childhood in India, his own mother’s struggle with mental illness, and decades of experience working in the field of psychiatry and mental health in his current home, Oklahoma. The book tells the story of how a young Krishna experienced his mother’s condition as a child, how her psychological disorder was perceived and treated at the time in India, and how his own suffering in helping his mother pushed him on the path to study psychiatry so that he might help her. This story is just the tip of the iceberg about an earnest doctor who serves his community—he’s also the founding president of the Health Alliance for the Uninsured and was the catalyst for influencing key legislation in Oklahoma that now protects healthcare professionals who volunteer to help the poor and uninsured. Krishna is donating 100 percent of the proceeds for this book to his endowment for the Eliminate the Stigma Award.
Cartoonist Ellen Forney is perhaps best known for her illustrations in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and in this new graphic memoir she examines her years-long struggle to find mental stability while retaining her creativity and passions after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Kirkus Reviews says her narrative proves just as engaging and informative as it is inspirational. In earnest disclosure and vivid illustration, Forney divulges all her concerns about changing her lifestyle, taking medicine, and determining what’s important to hold onto and let go of to keep a firm grasp on stability.
Olivier Martini is the second in his family to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and this graphic memoir is a touching story of their family and their ongoing battle with this illness—his brother Clem, a Calgary-based writer, pens the story with Olivier’s accompanying illustrations. The memoir is also honest and declarative in regards to the dilemma within Canada’s medical community to better understand and treat mental disorders.
Any book by Australian author, illustrator, and public speaker Matthew Johnstone would be a welcome member of this list. Not to be deceived by its large picture-book format, this book is written for adults with the intent of shaking the “Black Dog,” a symbolization of depression that Winston Churchill popularized when describing his ongoing combats with this illness. In talking about his book Johnstone says, “The hardest thing when you are depressed is thinking that there is no way out. But with the right steps, those Black-Dog days do pass. My Black Dog may reappear, but I’m equipped now to deal with him. I’ve brought him to heel.”
Mark Rice-Oxley is an assistant news editor on the foreign desk for the Guardian, and this personal memoir is an expressive testament and insight into an often-misunderstood illness. His book provides insight and hope, and his great deal of explanation helps those who have never experienced depression to better understand family and loved ones who are struggling through the thick of it.