A Poetic Reading List for World Mental Health Day

Neilson books

Every year on October 10th, people around the globe observe World Mental Health Day. This is a day for raising awareness of mental health issues, for supporting not just those who suffer from these issues, but also those with affected loved ones, as well as practitioners who work tirelessly to help those in need. It is a day for empathy, acceptance and solidarity, and an opportunity to try to understand, even in some small way, what it means to suffer from mental illness in our society.

It can be difficult, sometimes, to understand the very real challenges that people suffering from mental health issues face in our communities. If we don’t suffer from mental illness ourselves, or know someone who is, it can be tempting to ignore the problem, to sweep our concerns under the rug and go about our daily business. But there is much to be gained in seeking to recognize, even a little bit, the context of mental illness suffering and treatment. It can teach us to be more empathetic human beings, better friends, and generally more supportive, aware and accepting of the different abilities and disabilities of those around us.

In keeping, we recommend reading Shane Neilson’s trio of poetry collections on affect—books that consider pain, illness, love, life and death from the perspective of doctor, patient and observer.

Complete Physical ponders what it means to be ill, occasionally celebrates what it means to get better and considers the tragic point when illness becomes identity.

On Shaving Off His Face probes the ways in which we are recognized, defined and categorized by others’ interpretations of the maladies written on our faces.

Dysphoria comments on the pain, anxiety and dissatisfaction that arises from mental illness, attempting to bring readers inside the mind of the patient, to depict the history of mental health treatment, and to present an intimate consideration of illness from the point of view of a speaker who is at once sufferer, doctor and observer.


These books are raw, emotional and intensely rewarding. I highly recommend that you try one—or all—of these books, and that you keep in mind the importance of mental health awareness and support not just in your family, but also in your wider community.

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.