Conversation Starters: Mental Health


Lately, I've been noticing a lot of books dealing with mental health in YA, and for one I'm really glad about it. Mental health is an issue that society in general doesn't tend to talk about that much, especially with teens, and frankly that's illogical.

We teach people the symptoms of common diseases so they recognise them in themselves, and when someone refuses to admit that they're physically sick, the people they love - or the people they encounter that day - make them go home and take a break. They are told to seek medical help if they need it, especially if they're a teen.

But just because mental health is a little more confusing, we tend to clam up about it. But does that make sense? Shouldn't we ask more questions if we don't understand something?

That's why I think these books are so important, because they allow teens to learn about mental health without having to feel embarrassed about finding the information, without having to feel they're looking for something taboo, and that's so, so important.

Books make things less unmentionable, open up conversations. And if you want to start talking - or at least thinking - about these really important issues, then I'd start with these five books:

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Finch's brain is not like everyone else's. Some of the time, he's over-energetic, bouncing off the wall and changing everything. Other times, there's entire days - maybe even weeks - where he's basically asleep. He constantly contemplates suicide.

Violet doesn't feel like she deserves much life, not now. Not after her sister's was taken away. She's a blogger - they were bloggers - but now her words have dried up, and there's not much Violet can think to do except count the seconds until high school is over and she can get away from home. Maybe, that way, she has a chance to get away from everything else.

You'd think that putting them together would be disastrous. How it turned out is a matter of opinion, but this was the first book I'd ever really read that talked about mental illness so frankly, and it was an incredible eye-opener. And tear-jerker. And READ IT!

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

When I first heard about this book, I thought it sounded a lot like All the Bright Places - two kids, suicide, etc. etc. etc.

But it's not like that, trust me. Aysel wants to die because she feels like everyone hates her, and - well - I don't want to say too much, but people are more than judgy. It's awful reading her go about her daily business: she's so understandable and I relate to her because she's sarcastic and smart and means so much more than she thinks she does.

Then there's Roman, her suicide partner. I didn't say it wasn't complicated.

(When I started this, I was worried about it being a love-fixes-mental-illness-who-needs-actual-medical-help sort of thing, but I promise you it isn't. Just wallow in the ending and you'll get it.)

All Fall Down by Ally Carter

What I love about this book is that it gets the balance exactly right. Grace's mental scars are an important plot point, certainly, but the book itself is more about being thrust into a group of kids, half of which you don't know and half of which know you too well, knowing that any incident will probably cause an international incident. Oh, and there's a murderer on the loose. Probably.

Her condition isn't her whole character, either, and I love that. She's also off-the-wall and adventurous and just a little bit reckless. When she's not freaking out about fluffy pink dresses.

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Evie has OCD. She's properly been sectioned, and if everyone knows that . . . opportunities for normality are sort of limited.

That's why she's more excited than most about sixth form, where almost no-one knows about her or her crazy past. But normality is more confusing than you might think, especially when boys are concerned. How much has to do with her brain, and how much is just the craziness of being a girl?

This is #1 in Holly Bourne's genius Normal series, which is about how our seemingly equal world messes up both boys and girls in a lot of ways. The next two books are about Amber and Lottie, but I can't give too much away about how they know Evie, because there's the whole ruining-it-for-you thing. If there's one element of book rarer than properly represented mental health themes, it's feminism that doesn't tell you all men are animals.

Buy this book for its combined awesomeness. Bourne carries off both 'dangerous' topics (although they really aren't, let's be honest) perfectly, and I'm really excited for the soon-to-be-released sequels.


These books - and others, I'm sure - are going a long way to tackling mental health issues, but there just aren't enough: it's taken about a year of keeping an eye out on blogs, in bookshops and everywhere else to find these four. Metal health, disability and other diversities shouldn't be chucked into fiction for the sake of it, but that doesn't mean they need to be as rare as they are.
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In the comments: Do you have any other books about mental health to share? And which other diversities do you think need talking about more in fiction (I'm thinking I might do some more posts abo)?
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