Hello dear Happy Indulgers! (If the ladies don’t use this name for you upon their return, it’s a missed opportunity, tbh.) I am here today to A) Give these aforementioned fabulous ladies a little room to breathe and/or get married; and B) Talk to you about mental health in books and why it’s so important to have this representation.
Shines a Light on Mental Health
One of the best feelings when reading a book is when you really and fully relate to a character or their experience. Of course, we need to be better about representation across the board, but for the purposes of this post, let’s keep it to mental health exposure in books. When I was younger, Young Adult wasn’t really a “thing” in general. Sure, there were books aimed at my age range, but it wasn’t a big thing like it is now. There was maybe a shelf or two at the bookstore, that’s it. And among those books (and I read a lot), I never once encountered a book dealing with mental health. I can’t even say that there were books that dealt with it negatively- it simply wasn’t talked about in young adult literature, or frankly, anywhere else.
When I was a younger teen, I had particularly crippling anxiety. Only… I had no idea that it was a problem. My parents would just say I was “being dramatic”; I just assumed it was some kind of personality flaw. It was only when I began college at seventeen and sank into a pretty severe and long lasting depression that I finally understood that it wasn’t normal to feel so awful. Even then, it took the help of friends, and even my swim coach, to get me to realize that I needed help.
And even after finally taking the step to reach out for help, my family was less than supportive. My dad, who ironically has a degree in psychology, wanted me to go to another town so no one would recognize me. I refused, and went to a place five minutes away. The point is, what if I had read about mental health when I was thirteen, and not when I was nineteen? What about the people who had to wait even longer? Had I known that my issues weren’t just “quirks”, I can’t imagine how much better I’d have felt. Seeing yourself on the pages of a book, knowing that you’re not alone, it helps tremendously, even now. And I am beyond grateful that people, especially young people, have more resources today. It’s not perfect, but it’s progress.
I shall now recommend some books that were so very spot on in my opinion, that I was able to relate to so much:
See what I did there? Who doesn’t love self-promo, am I right? This reason is kind of the whole reason I came up with Shattering Stigmas to begin with- because one of the most important parts of having mental health portrayed in books is to erase the ridiculous preconceived notions that surround mental health in general.
I talked above about my dad. He wasn’t trying to be an asshat, he just was worried that people would think less of me because I was in therapy (and yes, I assume he also worried about what people would think of him). Because the truth is, that was, and still is, a thing. People with mental illness face discrimination across the board. Doctors don’t believe they’re ill because “it’s probably just your depression”. And of course, you want to yell that you didn’t depress your appendix into bursting, but okay. People are careful to hide diagnoses from employers, friends, even loved ones. And that simply should not be. Would you lie to your family about a cancer diagnosis? Be terrified to tell your boss about pneumonia? Unlikely.
The thing is, there’s a reason that people are afraid. Just the other day, I saw some piece of crap dude on Twitter talking about how mental illness, specifically depression in this case, “isn’t real”. This is a battle that people with mental illness have to undergo every day. People asking why they can’t “just cheer up!” Giving all sorts of advice “maybe if you exercise, you’ll be better”. Thanks Susan, but it took everything in their power to get out of bed, so I don’t think a 10K is in the cards.
And look- some of these advice givers mean well. But the ignorance about mental illness is everywhere. For as much as people with more common conditions go through, people with more severe mental illnesses go through even more. It goes beyond shame, beyond discrimination. They can often face outright hate, and in some cases, real threats to their physical and emotional well-being. All because far too many people believe in a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality that will never, ever be an option for those dealing with mental illness. Just as you can’t “will” your way out of a heart attack, neither can you will yourself free of mental illness.
But books… books allow readers to immerse themselves in the lives of a character who’s going through mental illness. When done right, a book can open a reader’s eyes to what a character with mental illness goes through. It’s able to show that mental health isn’t something to be afraid to talk about, nor is it something to sweep under the rug. The very best mental health books show how treatment works, and why reaching out is such a positive thing. It can help both patients and loved ones free themselves from the stigma.
To that end, these are some of the books that were incredibly eye opening to me about the struggles that people, especially with mental illness that I wasn’t as familiar with, go through. I highly recommend:
The Bottom Line
Whether you personally suffer from a mental illness, have a loved one with a mental illness, or are just a person picking up a book to learn more, mental health related books are here to enrich all our lives. Any time you can learn about something different is a fabulous experience. And in this case, you could be helping yourself, your friends, or your community.
And I will be once again hosting Shattering Stigmas! This year, it will be held from October 2-15, and I have some amazing co-hosts and guest posters who will be sharing their incredible stories with you. Some will explain, in further detail, why books featuring mental health have changed their lives. Some will have recommendations for you. Some will review mental health books. And some will share some amazingly personal stories, in the hopes of further silencing the voices who insist mental illness is something to be ashamed of, something to hide.
Huge thanks to Jeann, Jenna, and Aila for allowing me to post. And can we all give Jeann a huge round of congratulations on her marriage? And also maybe bother her for pictures, because she is going to be such a gorgeous bride. And we have to live vicariously 😉
What do you think about mental health in books? Is there enough (good) representation? Would you like to see more? Do you want to share more reasons that mental health in books is important? Let’s chat!
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It’s sad that, on top of dealing with issues related to mental illness, people have to worry about what others might think of them dealing with those issues. It’s a never-ending cycle that’s so hard to break!
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