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Eight Indian Books on Mental Health You Need to Read

A series of books around mental health around a pink background
These books serve as an introduction to mental health literature in India.

Mental Health

Eight Indian Books on Mental Health You Need to Read

Real-world mental health issues in Indian literature.

Stories have a way of holding our hands in the most difficult times; and if the narrative brings with it the visibility some of us need to make sense of our struggle or that of our loved ones, it can be empowering. Mental health has been seen through a miasma of stereotypes and taboos for the longest time, more so in India, but stories with their hearts in the right place can change that. Here are some powerful books by Indian authors that help us locate the humanity in mental health narratives. 

“Em and The Big Hoom” by Jerry Pinto

This picture features the book cover art of Jerry Pinto's debut novel, Em and the big Hoom. The book cover has a purple background and font in white and orange. It reads: "Copyrighted material. Em and the big Hoom. 'Profoundly moving' - Amitav Ghosh. JERRY PINTO. 'A rare and brilliant book.' - Kiran Desai." Below it is a white silhouette of the head of a woman with patterns in black ink all over.

Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto is about a woman with bipolar disorder. Credits: Penguin Books

Simply put, Jerry Pinto’s debut novel is about a woman with bipolar disorder and her family, as their lives unwind in a small flat in 20th-century Bombay. But Pinto’s honest and humourous storytelling makes it relatable to anyone who has ever had an argument with their parents. The book, told from a caregiver’s point of view, will take the reader through a spectrum of emotions and leave them with empathy for those living with mental health illnesses and those who care.

I’ve never been (Un)happier” by Shaheen Bhatt

In this picture is the book cover art for I've never been Unhappier by Shaheen Bhatt, and the cover spells out the title and the author's name. The illustration features an open Russian Doll. The external doll is of a blue hue and the one on the inside is yellow and red. The background is also yellow.

I’ve never been (Un)happier by Shaheen Bhatt recounts her experiences with depression. Credits: Penguin India

First-time author and mental health advocate Shaheen Bhatt’s memoir is a very quick read. She effortlessly juxtaposes the puzzle of being born privileged and growing up with depression. This startlingly perspicacious book talks about the unpredictability of mental health in the most matter-of-fact way. Anyone who wants a moving personal account and an honest perspective on mental health can start with this gem.

“Sepia Leaves” by Amandeep Sandhu

In this picture is a book cover art. The title and the author's name are written on it: Sepia Leaves by Amandeep Sandhu. At the bottom is a review by 'The Week' that reads: '...the novel is unique in Indian writing.'

Sepia Leaves by Amandeep Sandhu tells the story of a young man coming to terms with his mother’s schizophrenia. Credits: Rupa Publisher

Amandeep Sandhu’s novel is an evocative take on a young man’s understanding and acceptance of his mother’s schizophrenia as he goes through old family pictures. Readers looking for a sense of closure for unresolved trauma left from a troubled dynamic with a parent can find solace in this poignant coming-of-age tale.

“How To Travel Light: My Memories of Madness and Melancholia” by Shreevatsa Nevatia

In this picture is a book cover art. It has the tile and the author's name printed on it: How to travel light: My memories of madness and melancholia by Shreevatsa Nevatia.' On the top and bottom are reviews for the book by Abraham Varghese and Jerry Pinto, respectively.

How To Travel Light is a memoir by Shreevatsa Nevatia after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Credits: Penguin Random House India

Shreevatsa Nevatia was 23 when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This is his memoir, highlighting the highs and lows of his life as a journalist. The deeply personal book is not only a profound insight into what bipolar disorder entails, it can also be picked up by anyone going through moments of doubt while trying to juggle their mental health and professional needs.

“A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind” (Edited by Jerry Pinto)

In this picture is a book cover art. The title of the book is printed across it: 'A Book of Light: When a loved one has a different mind.' At the bottom it says: 'Edited by Jerry Pinto. Author of Em and the big Hoom.'

A Book of Light is a collection of 13 real-life accounts by caregivers to mental illness patients, edited by Jerry Pinto. Credits: Speaking Tiger

As the name suggests “A Book of Light” shines a spotlight on topics that are usually left untouched. It is a collection of 13 real life accounts of caregivers who supported family members with mental health illnesses. The accounts are raw and honest, and will resonate with anyone who has had a similar experience and emerged stronger on the other side.

“Maine Mandu Nahin Dekha” by Swadesh Deepak (Hindi)

A book cover of maine mandu nahin dekha against a pink backdrop. The cover has three women in white.

This book by playwright Swadesh Deepak is heavily inspired by his own journey with bipolar disorder. Credits: Juggernaut Books

The memoir of Swadesh Deepak, a famous Hindi writer and playwright, is a fascinating look into a troubled mind, grappling with mental health challenges, but unyielding in its creative prowess. Unlike the classical memoir, Deepak’s narrative does not follow a chronological sequence but leaves a strong impression as a tale of a grit and survival against substantial odds.

“The Crazy Tales of Pagla Dashu and Co” by Sukumar Ray (Bengali) 

In this picture is the illustration of a book cover art. The title is written on it: 'The Crazy Tales of Pagla Dashu and Co.' On the top, it says: Collector's Edition! Packed with rare illustrations by Sukumar Ray and Satyajit Ray. At the bottom it says: Introduction by Nabaneeta Dev Sen.

The Crazy Tales of Pagla Dashu & Co. is a collection of humourous short stories about a schoolboy by Sukumar Ray. Credits: Hachette India

Sukumar Ray’s collection of humorous short stories about a schoolboy’s adventures is a classic among Indian kids. But it was way ahead of its time. The book focuses on a different way of thinking through Dashu, a clever, perspicacious child, whose eccentricities are portrayed as funny escapades. His character can be a positive role model for children who can grow up to see mental health as a spectrum instead of a binary of good and bad labels.

“Side Effects of Living: An Anthology of Voices on Mental Health” (Edited by Jhilmil Breckenridge and Namarita Kathait)

In this picture is the book cover art for the book 'Side Effect: An anthology of voices on mental health by Jhilmil Breckenridge and Namarita Kathhait.' The title and author are published on the cover, along with the illustration of two hands with the tips of their index fingers and thumbs touching each other. One hand is blue and is set in front of the other hand which is read. Within the shapes formed by the fingers touching each other are features of a face each. On the top is a review for the book written by Jerry Pinto. It reads: 'This book is beautiful and brave. We can only salute the courage with which all these writers have let us into their lives. Read them.'

Side Effects of Living is an anthology of voices on mental health by Jhilmil Breckenridge and Namarita Kathait. Credits: Speaking Tiger Publishing & Women Unlimited

An anthology of accounts, this book primarily holds space for those who have lived with a mental health condition and wish to gain more perspective. Through stories, poetry and art, the stories offer a panoramic view on the different shades of mental health. Anyone who has felt isolated and alone, or has cared for a loved one will benefit from the book and its insights on the conversations around mental health in India. 

These works are a good starting point for those who read Indian literature. Readers will find many more books that lend their voices to this discussion, especially when digging into regional literature. Feel free to add your favourites in the comments.  

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