Mental Illness in YA


*Trigger warnings: depression, eating disorders, OCD and anxiety*

Unfortunately, even in modern society today, discussing mental illness openly can still be considered greatly taboo and frowned upon. Which, with increasing numbers of young adults and children either suffering with a mental illness themselves or watching someone close to them suffer, is quite worrying and can have extremely negative consequences.

One place where mental illness itself and recovery can be explored, and still reach a large number of people, is in literature: in particular within young adult fiction. Hence by exploring it through written word those of the younger generation it does affect, in some way or another, can find advice, reassurance and company.

As a theme that needs to be treated with sensitivity, empathy and care, authors have to be considerate to the intended reader, and to inspire the idea that recovery is possible.  Three novels worth considering to read, perhaps to find an idea on how to find your own way towards recovery, to help someone you love, or just to broaden personal understanding or insight into the psyche of mental illness are:

Wintergirls by Lauire Halse Anderson – "Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit. Laurie Halse Anderson explores Lia’s descent into the powerful vortex of anorexia, and her painful path toward recovery." (Taken from Goodreads)

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini - "Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed at life - which means getting into the right high school to get into the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan's Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself. Craig's suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital … There, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety." (Taken from Goodreads)

Born to be Perfect by Barbara Raghavan - "What can you do when those around you are as messed up as you are? Do you realize that we all have irrational personal quirks – some barely noticeable, others more intrusive? How do you cope in a dysfunctional family, where the search for affection leads to rejection or, at best, indifference? Navin found a way in his own set of obsessive rules of cleanliness. This is a story about life and love amidst obsessions, hoarding, and kleptomania." (Taken from Goodreads)

For authors to be able to address the process of recovery, readers are guided along the darkest parts of the journey, and through the mentality of the protagonist whilst suffering with their illness, first. Which is why this article is written with a trigger warning. A lot of mental illnesses won’t simply disappear after reading a novel that describes recovery after it has described the worst parts of such illnesses. However, as writing such a story takes deep and extensive research, planning and rewriting, the potential of inspiring the want of recovery, the seeking of help, or even just the providence of reassurance of not being alone, is what truly matters. 

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If you need help with any of the above issues, there are helplines available to you no matter where you are in the world: 

Rethink Mental Illness: 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm)

Samaritans:  08457 90 90 90 (24-hour helpline)