Libraries across the country are joining First Fortnight to shine a spotlight on mental health books during the month of January - Edel Doran, First Fortnight's Mental Health Art & Culture Festival Programme Co-ordinator, writes for Culture about their Mind Reading initiative...

Growing up, I was most definitely a bookworm. Every Saturday, we'd troop into the library to get a new stock of books. My Mother often joked the library was the one place she could have safely left me overnight, and opening up in the morning, they would have found me happily reading surrounded by books.

Books open up both factual and fictional worlds to me. They were fountains of knowledge and fun. Reading a book and relating to the thought process of a character has often helped me feel less isolated and alone.

First Fortnight's Edel Doran

Little did younger me know that I would end up having the privilege of recommending books like these to others as part of the First Fortnight Festival. This January, the Festival is putting a spotlight on mental health-themed fiction and non-fiction books for readers to enjoy and I was honoured to be able to curate a First Fortnight Recommended Reading list of 11 talented Irish and international writers.

1. Hitching for Hope - Ruairí McKiernan

2. Republic of Shame - Caelainn Hogan

3. Midnight Library - Matt Haig

4. Havin' A Laugh - Havin' A Laugh

5. Sh*te thanks for Asking - Angi Dixon

6. Don't Touch My Hair - Emma Dabiri

7. The Chill Skill - Niall Breslin

8. The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story - Christie Watson

9. Break the Mould - Sinéad Burke

10. Mind on Fire - Arnold Fanning

11. The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse - Charlie Mackesy

Here’s a sneak peek of just three titles - and why I picked them!

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse

This book is packed with wisdom and goes down like chicken soup for the soul for people of all ages. It is a collection of stunning drawings with conversations and musings promoting the most simple but critical values like kindness, empathy, self-care, and of course cake!

In one drawing the boy asks the Horse what is the bravest thing he's ever said, and the Horse replies "Help."

Reading this book, you can understand why so many people are getting tattoos of Charlie Mackesy's drawings. You also may strongly want cake afterward.

The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story

I wanted to select a book to represent frontline health care workers. With a nurse and two paramedics in my immediate family, I have an inkling of what challenges can face them, but a larger spotlight and conversation is needed around this subject. Who is taking care of the people taking care of us?

Research has shown that even before the pandemic, challenging work conditions have created widespread mental health problems for the sector. The dedication, care and compassion, but also the daily struggles of healthcare workers, are captured in this beautiful book by Christie Watson. She was a nurse for the NHS in

the UK for over 2 decades. Her first placement was in a mental health hospital and it’s insightful to read her perspective as she shares the mental toll her profession takes on those who choose it.

She takes us on a journey from life to death, from A&E to the mortuary. What a normal day at work looks like in a health care setting is hard to fathom as an outsider. This book helps to give the reader a better understanding and a deeper appreciation for those who put themselves on the line to take care of us.

Break the Mould

In a world filled with pressure and anxiety for young people growing up, this book reminds people of the importance of embracing what makes you different. In doing so, often you can help create a change. It promotes inclusivity, finding your voice, taking your place and just being yourself. While it's a book for young humans to form healthy attitudes, I definitely recommend parents dip in and out for a few reminders themselves!

Libraries across the country are joining First Fortnight to shine a spotlight on mental health books during the month of January - find out more here.