Health and personal development have an emotional component, often called mental health, or emotional health. A recognized medical specialty is devoted to it and people spend considerable time and money attending to it. Some people exhibit a narcissistic obsession with it but there should be no doubt that emotional health is an essential component of happiness and well-being and an indispensable predicate to living fully and with dignity.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Theresa L. Scheid and Tony N. Brown, eds., A Handbook for the Study of Mental Health: Social Contexts, Theories, and Systems (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
- Graham Thornicroft, George Szmukler and Kim T. Mueser, Oxford Textbook of Community Mental Health (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Positive true narratives on mental health:
- Katie Arnold, Running Home: A Memoir (Random House, 2019): “ . . . she writes a story exploring how her growing preoccupation with running has been intertwined with loving and losing her father. She takes the risk of being ordinary, and therefore human.”
From the dark side:
- Susan Sheehan, Is There No Place on Earth for Me? (Houghton Mifflin, 1982): an account of a schizophrenic young woman’s life in a psychiatric hospital
- Marin Sardy, The Edge of Every Day: Sketches of Schizophrenia (Pantheon, 2019): “According to her mother, Sardy’s father was swept away in a tsunami in Hawaii in the mid-80s. He drowned and a stranger took his place. This man was very helpful and began taking care of the family, and after a while nobody noticed anymore that he wasn’t their real dad. Sardy’s mother knew the truth, though. He was a replacement. She called him Mr. Ree.”
- David Peace, Patient X: The Case-Book of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (Knopf, 2018): a biography of the troubled man whose short story inspired the film Rashomon
- Susannah Cahalan, The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness (Grand Central Press, 2019): “It’s the kind of story that has levels to it, only instead of a townhouse it’s more like an Escher print. On one level: A profile of Rosenhan and his study. On another: Cahalan’s own experience of researching the book. And on a third: The fraught history of psychiatry and the pursuit of scientific knowledge.”
- Anthony David, Into the Abyss: A Neuropsychiatrist’s Notes On Troubled Minds (Oneworld Publications, 2020): “. . . a short-story-style collection of curious case studies from David’s long career as a neuropsychiatrist”
- Jason Adam Katzenstein, Everything Is an Emergency: An O.C.D. Story in Words and Pictures (HarperPerennial/HarperCollins, 2020): “Katzenstein’s hand-drawn medical memoir reaches back to his early childhood. He recalls his first fears . . . and a world that starts to crack when his parents divorce. A therapist encourages him to start creating stories, giving him a temporary sense of focus and, ultimately, a career.”
- Catherine Cho, Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness (Holt, 2020): an inquiry “about the factors (biological, cultural and environmental) that make some women vulnerable to episodes of acute, severe mental illness in the period after they become mothers.”
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Music of Luigi Nono (1924-1990) is full of anxiety, expressing the dark side of mental health:
- Variazioni canoniche sulla serie dell’ 41 (1950)
- Varianti (1957)
- No hoy cominas, hoy que cominar (1987)
- Incontri per 24 strumenti (1955)
- Elgar, Symphony No. 2 in E flat major, Op. 63, is the composer’s musical exhortation to remain cheerful in the face of difficult world conditions (performances conducted by Solti, Previn and Petrenko).
- Michael Hersch, Images from a Closed Ward (2010): pieces for string quartet, based on a visit to a Rhode Island asylum.
- Pink Floyd, The Wall, is a rock-music narrative about overcoming alienation.
- The Touré-Raichel Collective, “The Tel Aviv Session”: employing easy-driving rhythms with the reassuring voice of the kora, this album is joyful, lively and embracing
- Steven Halpern, “Radiant Health and Well-Being”
From the dark side:
- Akwaeki Emezi, Freshwater: A Novel (Grove Atlantic, 2018): “Emezi draws in part from her own life to tell the story of Ada, a young Igbo and Tamil woman haunted by the — the ‘godly parasite with many heads, roaring inside the marble room of her mind.’ The story is narrated by Ada’s multiple personalities, and occasionally by Ada herself.”
Out of a cell into this darkened space—
The end at twenty-five!
My tongue could not speak what stirred within me,
And the village thought me a fool.
Yet at the start there was a clear vision,
A high and urgent purpose in my soul
Which drove me on trying to memorize
The Encyclopedia Britannica!
[Edgar Lee Masters, “Frank Drummer”]