The Best Audiobooks to Help You Cope with Depression

Here is a selection of listens—fiction and nonfiction alike—that will help you learn more about your mental health and make life with depression a bit easier.

Sometimes when the world feels like too much, it can be helpful to listen to an audiobook that explores similar feelings. As someone who struggles with depression, I understand. Depression—medically labeled major depressive disorder (MDD), unipolar depression, or clinical depression—is far more than just feeling a little sad. When you're suffering from depression, it can feel like there's no way out. And in those moments, it’s important that we find resources to help us through. Maybe you're looking for a first-person narrative about struggling with or recovering from depression, or maybe you just need a fiction title featuring characters with whom you can relate. Here are a few of the best books on depression—but before you dive in, please be aware that the subject matter in some of the following listens might be triggering for people currently experiencing or struggling with depression.

 

Nonfiction Audiobooks About Depression

Lost Connections

Lost Connections

For nearly his entire life, journalist Johann Hari has suffered from depression. He had always been told that depression was an issue of chemical imbalances in the brain, but the older he got, the more he began to question everything he’d been told about depression and anxiety. Speaking with social scientists around the world, Hari discovered that depression and anxiety actually have their roots in nine causes outside of chemical imbalances. After uncovering these causes, which are related to the way we live today, Hari spoke to several scientists who have found different solutions to depression that actually work. The discoveries Hari shares in Lost Connections will change the way you think about this major mental health crisis and its devastating impact on our world. The author narrates his audiobook, and his tone is friendly and approachable.

The Valedictorian of Being Dead

The Valedictorian of Being Dead

The Valedictorian of Being Dead is a memoir about suicidal ideation and depression from New York Times best-selling author and blogger Heather B. Armstrong. As bleak as it may sound, Armstrong is able to approach the subject with honesty and humor. Even as Armstrong was writing about pop culture and motherhood on her blog, hints of her struggles with depression were hidden in nearly every article. After an 18-month battle with suicidal thoughts, she was desperate for a solution—so she signed up to be a part of an experimental study in which doctors used propofol anesthesia to quiet all brain activity for a full 15 minutes. In other words, she volunteered to let doctors flatline her...a total of 10 times. Armstrong recounts the strange experience in her author-narrated work.

The Scar

The Scar

The Scar is a memoir that examines the stigma surrounding clinical depression. Author Mary Cregan’s own journey with depression started with the loss of her first child, Anna, who died at only two days old. Decades later, Cregan is still trying to make sense of the despair and loss. While examining her own experiences with depression, the author weaves in historical treatments of melancholia, pop culture depictions of mental illness, and much more. For listeners who are struggling with this condition, The Scar offers both insight into managing depression and hope that things can get better. And with such a personal and heartfelt story at its core, Cregan’s genuine narration feels especially appropriate.

This Close to Happy

This Close to Happy

This audiobook started as a series of essays Daphne Merkin wrote for The New York Times Magazine about what it’s like being a woman suffering from clinical depression. In This Close to Happy, Merkin recounts her childhood depression, her hospitalization, her issues with her mother, her experiences with therapists and psychopharmacologists, and her severe postpartum depression. In the end, Merkin arrives at her present moment, where she hasn’t found a cure for her depression, but has learned how to live with it. If you want to know what depression feels like or if you want to hear it explained in words so that you can better understand your own struggles, This Close to Happy is the perfect listen. Merkin’s depiction of depression is brutally honest, and AudioFile Golden Voice winner Suzanne Toren narrates with the empathy it commands.

Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass

Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass

In Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass, Annita Perez Sawyer recalls being institutionalized as a teenager in the 1960s because of suicidal ideation. During her six years inside a mental hospital, she received electroshock treatments 89 times, and she is still haunted by the effects. After she was released, Anita attempted to move on with her life. She attended Yale, became a psychotherapist, and started a family. But the brokenness of the mental health system still leaves her unsettled. This author-narrated memoir tells an uplifting story of perseverance and recovery, but it’s also a cautionary tale that unearths and confronts the horrors of historical mental health treatments.

Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide

Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide

Legendary rap star and Run DMC cofounder Darryl "DMC" McDaniels gets candid about his battle with depression and suicidal thoughts in his moving, self-narrated memoir, Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide. For years, McDaniels turned to alcohol to numb himself and cope with the pressures of fame, but when the drinking wasn’t enough, he began to consider taking his own life. The mental health crisis disproportionately affects Black communities; in 1997, when McDaniels’s depression was at its worst, suicide was the third leading cause of death for Black Americans. Here, McDaniels reflects honestly on the many factors that led to his battle with depression. And if you’re listening to his memoir and searching for help yourself, the author also provides crucial resources and guidance. Beyond a personal story, this memoir seeks to disprove misconceptions about depression: It doesn’t have one face. Depression can affect people from all races and ethnic backgrounds across the socioeconomic spectrum, from the poor and homeless to the ultra-rich and famous.

Furiously Happy

Furiously Happy

Looking for a memoir about depression that also manages to be hilarious? You’ll love Furiously Happy. Lawson’s essays examine the day-to-day life of a person dealing with chronic depression and crippling anxiety. At first, it might seem strange to write about such a serious topic in a comedic way—but if you think about the nature of comedy, a lot of jokes land because of their relatability: it’s funny because it’s true. If you’ve ever experienced depression or anxiety, you’ll find much that hits home in Lawson’s stories. The author narrates, and her comedic timing is perfect.

 

Fiction Audiobooks About Depression

The Bell Jar

The Bell Jar

Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal brilliantly performs this audiobook version of Sylvia Plath’s classic novel. The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood, a talented and promising young woman who is starting to spiral into depression. Narrated from Esther’s perspective, listeners get an introspective look at the emotions, thought processes, worries, and doubts that surface during a depressive episode. This audio edition features a short biography of the author, offering deeper insight into the context of the novel and a glimpse into Plath’s own struggles with mental illness.

Transcendent Kingdom

Transcendent Kingdom

Transcendent Kingdom is Yaa Gyasi’s follow-up to her stunning debut novel, Homegoing. In her sophomore novel, Gyasi looks at the effects of depression, addiction, and grief on a Ghanian family in Alabama. Gifty is a PhD candidate studying the neural circuits of depression and addiction in mice at Stanford University School of Medicine. She lost her brother after a sports injury led him to an oxycodone addiction. Her mother, who suffers from crippling depression, can’t even get out of bed. So Gifty has turned to science in an attempt to make sense of the grief and despair she sees all around her. Bahni Turpin narrates this audiobook. Turpin’s performances have earned her several Audie Awards, for popular listens such as The Hate U Give and Children of Blood and Bone, and a place of honor in Audible's Narrator Hall of Fame. Needless to say, her performance of this emotional and moving novel is not to be missed.

More Happy Than Not

More Happy Than Not

Silvera’s young adult novel is about the search for happiness in the face of grief and impossible sadness. Aaron Soto is desperately reaching for happiness after a family tragedy leaves him feeling lost. So when Leteo Institute's memory-alteration procedure is announced, Aaron thinks he’s found the cure to what ails him. But then Aaron meets Thomas, and through his new friend, Aaron starts to truly open up about his past. More Happy Than Not is celebrated young adult author Adam Silvera’s debut novel, which, as he has shared, he wrote while in the midst of his own depression. The author’s own feelings and struggles come across in his touching work.

Little & Lion

Little & Lion

If you or anyone you know has suffered from bipolar disorder—a mental illness marked by cyclic episodes of mania and depression—the events and characters in Little & Lion will likely ring true for you. This listen is ultimately uplifting, but it hit me hard emotionally because of my own experiences with friends and family—and I mean that in the best way possible. Little & Lion is the story of two step siblings, Lionel (Lion) and Suzette, torn by mental health issues. When Lion is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Suzette is sent to boarding school in New England so her parents can focus on treating his illness. When she returns home to Los Angeles, Suzette realizes just how much her stepbrother needs her support. But things get complicated when Suzette and Lionel start falling for the same girl. When Lionel begins spiraling, Suzette will have to decide what’s really important in order to help her brother before he does harm to himself. The novel is compassionately narrated by Alisha Wainwright, who really brings these nuanced characters to life.

Rabbits for Food

Rabbits for Food

For this next novel, we move away from heartfelt and sincere young adult fiction to humorous and sarcastic adult fiction. Kirshenbaum’s Rabbits for Food is the story of a writer’s depression and institutionalization that is also extremely hilarious. It’s New Year’s Eve, and our protagonist is out to dinner with her friends and her husband when she finds herself completely unraveling. From there, she’s sent to a prestigious New York City psych ward where she refuses all treatments suggested for her condition. Instead, she spends her days judging and writing about all of the other patients in the ward, who she flatteringly refers to as “lunatics.” And of course, she also looks back on everything in her life that brought her to this point. For an audiobook like this, tone and comedic timing are so important to land the laughs, and narrator Hillary Huber nails it.

All the Bright Places

All the Bright Places

Jennnifer Niven’s All the Bright Places was recently made into a Netflix movie starring Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. But before you watch the movie, listen to the audiobook. This is a love story about two teens struggling with depression and grief. Theodore suffers from depression and spends his days thinking about different ways he might die. But each time he thinks about ending his life, something stops him. Violet feels stuck in her grief for her sister who recently died. She believes that graduating and moving away will give her an escape, not only from her current life but also from her overwhelming feelings of loss. So when Theodore and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear whether Violet is the one saving Theodore or the other way around. Either way, in each other, the teenagers begin to find hope. I love a good audiobook with multiple narrators because it keeps the story feeling fresh and realistic, and with All the Bright Places, you get two excellent narrators in Kirby Heyborne and Ariadne Meyers.

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You

Celeste Ng’s debut novel completely broke my heart in the best way possible. This novel is about a Chinese American family living in Ohio in the 1970s and the tragedy that will completely destroy them. Ng starts us off with the haunting lines: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet...”. Lydia is Marilyn and James Lee’s middle daughter. Lydia’s parents have high hopes for her future: that she’ll become a doctor, that she’ll be popular and loved. But when Lydia’s body is found in the lake, all of the family’s hopes are destroyed. A portrait of grief and depression, Everything I Never Told You is also an examination of a young life that was never fully known, even by those who thought they were the closest to her. Narrator Cassandra Campbell brings the right amount of compassion to this novel, and (full disclosure) her reading brought me to tears.


 

As someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety, I know how therapeutic a good listen can feel in times of distress. But don't let your search for help begin and end with audiobooks. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or addiction, or you need help with any other mental health-related issues, be sure to reach out to a professional.

If you are in the United States, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Hotline: 1-800-622-HELP. They are available to answer your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Or visit their website at samhsa.gov. This service is completely confidential, and no one will ask you to divulge any personal information.

Alternately, you can reach out to the following organizations:

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “NAMI” to 741741

  • The Mental Health America (MHA) Hotline: text “MHA” to 741741

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255; live online chat available at suicidepreventionlifeline.org

  • Crisis Text Line: text “CONNECT” to 741741

  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255

  • Teen Line: 1-310-855-4673. Or text “TEXT TEEN” to 839863

  • National Eating Disorders (NEDA) Helpline: 1-800-931-2237

  • Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

 


 

Emily Martin earned her Ph.D. at the University of Southern Mississippi. She also works as a contributor for Book Riot and as a blogger/podcaster at Book Squad Goals.

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