Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. I am sorry for the delay on this post as well as posts recently. I have been dealing with the end of school rush which means projects, tests, and no time for myself. Moving past that, I am back once again to talk about something that is beyond important in literature, particularly in the Young Adult genre.
Growing up is hard enough, let alone having mental illness at a young age. Unfortunately, even in today’s society, there is stigma against mental illness. If one can’t see it, they don’t believe it exists. I know for a fact, from both personal experience and from the experiences of those around me, that mental illness is real and affects the person dealing with it and those around them. That is why it is important that it is represented in a way that does not glorify it or idolize it, but in a way that is realistic and can connect with those who deal with such issues.
What do I mean by glorification or idolization? I simply mean that this is a practice where books, television shows, or movies make it appear as if it is cool or romantic to have a mental illness. This can also include media that makes mental illness something that goes away easily or when the right person comes along. Mental illness isn’t fixable through a change of scenery or through someone telling you to “snap out of it.” If it were that easy, this conversation wouldn’t be needed nor would awareness have to be made. Mental illness comes from changes of the chemicals within the brain, trauma, genetics — there are so many factors to take into account, unique to each individual.
Why are having books that represent mental illness – and not only represent, but represent them well — matter? Young adults and even adults who read these books need to feel as if their problems are understood and that they are not alone in what they may be dealing with. Writers who take on mental illness should leave the door open for someone to step through and see themselves within the character. If repeatedly they are seeing examples that their story doesn’t matter (and this goes for anyone), they will start to believe it. Maybe not consciously at first, but subconsciously. Sometimes it only takes one voice to make someone feel as if they are important and their issues too are important. For teenagers especially, they need to know that they are not crazy. There is always help that can be sought. Mental illness is not the definition of a person. Mental illness does not equate with weakness.
This topic is a personal one for me because I found the book that spoke to me, the book in which I saw myself and for the first time saw everything I needed to. The book was The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. There was something so raw about the main character and his tale that I couldn’t help other than to cry and feel so many emotions at once. The book takes the reader, through a series of letters, into the main character’s head as he navigates through trauma, repressed memories, finding friends, and starting high school. You will grow to love the main character by the end and all of his discoveries. You will also get a punch in the gut, but that to me qualifies the book as a great piece of writing.
There are others books, some of which I will list below that I have read personally. This just happened to be the book that touched me first and made me understand all of what I felt was okay. It led me to acceptance of my issues and put me on a path in life which I am still on — where I decided I want to write and edit and pour all of my experiences into the works I create.
For those who are dealing with issues of any kind, it is okay to not dive into the books that may trigger you. The last thing to advocate for is reliving experiences best left where they are. However, what young adult literature can offer is an outlet, a sense of untangling what is inside. That is the key here; there should always be representation and accurately done so. An author may never know who they are helping or in which ways they are impacting an individual. Having the option however is a beautiful thing especially when the difference is positive.
If you have any stories about books that changed your life or books you would recommend for readers involving mental illness, feel free to comment below. Some of mine that I recommend are:
Thirteen Reason Why by Jay Asher
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Until next time,