This article is the first of three articles based on an extensive research on twelve Scandinavian autobiographies published in the period 1918 to 2008. The books are all written by people who by themselves or others have been described as having mental health problems. Historically, there have been differences in the understanding and perception of what kinds of people have mental health problems, or are described as having mental disorders. This article discusses the background of the authors and their motives for publishing books about their experiences of mental health problems. In relation to the authors’ backgrounds, the results show variation. However regarding their motivation for writing, we find similarities both between periods of time and geography. The authors wish to help others, to help themselves and to inform the community about conditions in the treatment system that ought to be changed. The consistent critique by these authors through different time periods shows that basic assumptions and models of thought within the mental health care system need further consideration.