Looking for a Good Read?

More than any other part of our lives, the teenage and young adult years provide a vital window for self-discovery that affects how people perceive not only themselves, but others as well.  This is why an accurate portrayal of mental illness in media geared toward this group is of the utmost importance. Here are ten books that portray mental illness in different (but all very accurate) ways, and why each is so important to contributing to that understanding and fighting against the stigma that surrounds this topic.

  1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

This semi-autobiographical classic follows Esther Greenwood as she deals with clinical depression and attempted suicide.  The title of the novel comes from the protagonist’s own metaphor, comparing the suffocating feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness resulting from her depression to being trapped under a bell jar, struggling to take a breath.  The book also provides a positive view of medication and even electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), something that is comparatively rare in modern media.

  1. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Craig Gilner is a teenage boy who is driven to succeed, but finds himself struggling to do so once he has to deal with severe clinical depression.  Aside from an accurate portrayal of this struggle, this book provides a surprisingly accurate depiction of mental hospitals as well. Rather than the setting of a horror story, this book uses the mental institution as a setting for friendships, romance, self-discovery, and ultimately healing.  This refreshingly accurate portrayal is so important in helping to normalize and eliminate the stigma surrounding this treatment option.

  1. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

A novel doesn’t have to be told from the point of view of the person with the mental illness to have an accurate depiction, and this book takes advantage of that idea. This story is told not through the eyes of a war veteran suffering from PTSD, but through his 17-year-old daughter who is struggling to help him heal. The journey that family and friends often take along with those who suffer from mental illness is vital and sorely underrepresented in modern media.

  1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This is a classic and compelling mystery told through the eyes of someone who displays many symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome, from problems with overstimulation to the more rare savant syndrome that sometimes accompanies this disorder. Although a depiction of Asperger’s Syndrome might not necessarily be what the author intended, there is undoubtedly enough of a parallel to give this underrepresented group someone to relate to.

  1. Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught

If you’re looking for a mystery novel with a more concrete and intentional portrayal of mental illness, this book may be a good fit. Jason Milwaukee, a boy with schizophrenia, struggles with his jumbled thoughts and memories to try and find his best friend who disappeared. The book itself utilizes its medium fully to convey this struggle, too; the main character’s inner turmoil and confusion are reflected through tone, style, and at certain points, complete lack of punctuation.

  1. OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu

The story provides a raw, organic commentary on the struggles of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), particularly how it can affect relationships. Bea, the protagonist, also works through a sense of self-denial that she needs help at all; something many people with mental illness consider an important part of their story. Finally, this novel shows how loved ones can be part of the solution without falling into the “love cures all” pitfall that some stories do.

  1. The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti

Jade DeLuna suffers from panic attacks that are accurately described not only on a physical level, but also on a psychological one. Most notably, it explores the feeling of not wanting to be defined by your illness, even when it interferes with more than one aspect of your life.

  1. Counting To D by Kate Scott

While this story does offer a very accurate picture of what it is like to live and learn with dyslexia, it also explores the more broadly applicable experience of trying to start over after moving to a new place. In Sam Wilson’s case, this involved trying to leave her mental illness behind as well, only to find out that it was nothing to be ashamed of: everyone had something they struggled with, even the “smart kids”.

  1. Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa

Not all characters with mental illness need to have their struggle center predominantly around that illness, and “Playing Tyler” is a good example. Despite touching on aspects of his struggles with ADHD in a realistic way (trouble in school, difficulty with social interactions, etc), the story focuses much more on what he is good at than what he isn’t. You can even argue that his talent for gaming might have been augmented by the more positive aspects of ADHD, such as hyper focus, and that’s something rarely seen in fiction.

  1. The Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Finally, on that same vein of portraying mental illness accurately without making it the main focus, “Six of Crows” offers a thrilling tale of a seven unlikely comrades and their attempt at a deadly heist. The main character, Kaz Brekker, just happens to have PTSD. An interesting aspect of this story is that the symptoms portrayed aren’t just the stereotypical flashbacks and nightmares, but the lesser-known symptoms, such as touch aversion, and how that affects his interactions with others.

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