May is National Mental Health (Awareness) Month. There's so much stigma around mental health that people suffering from mental illness and mental health issues can feel isolated. Oftentimes, this results in drastic measures being taken by those stigmatized, as is the case with one of the characters in Jennifer Brown's Hate List.
The issue of mental health is no laughing matter, and for teens, it can be difficult to cope with their illnesses when their peers are quick to pass judgment and taunt and tease them.
Try one of these books if you're interested in realistic teen fiction dealing with themes of mental health and illness. It's also a great list if you know someone dealing with an illness, if you want to be an ally but aren't quite ready for the real-life accounts, or if you just want a good book to read!
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Kristen Stewart's best performance, in my opinion, was in the film adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. Melinda has retreated into her mind after a traumatic event that happened over the summer, so much so that she's unable to speak. However, when it looks like others might end up in her situation, she has to struggle with her demons and find the words to heal herself.
I'd recommend this book for readers who are not uncomfortable with graphic descriptions and blatant implications of abuse. Without giving too much away, it's a great read for both guys and girls that's hard to put down.
For something a little less graphic, try E. Lockhart's We Were Liars. If you're into beautiful imagery, a "meta" story, and classic teen romance, then you're probably going to like this book. I say "probably" because it seems this book has two camps: those who thoroughly enjoyed it and those who don't.
I've read it about three times now, and I still find beauty in the way Cadence and Gat exist together, in the descriptions of their summer homes, and in the ending. Oof, the ending! Gets me every time.
Be warned that the characters will instantly make you think of Gossip Girl, but the story is a far cry from the drama of the Upper East Side. It's a great, quick summer read, and one that will make you think about the ways in which society views and handles PTSD.
Depression and Suicide
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is at first glance, just another teen book about angst and high school acceptance. Upon closer reading, Asher's story is one of my favorite examples of realistic fiction for teens. Clay, the protagonist, is just a regular guy in high school who inexplicably receives a package from his classmate, Hannah. The only thing is, Hannah recently committed suicide, so she didn't send the package.
Or did she?
In the box, Clay finds cassette tapes that ultimately explain why Hannah took her life and who contributed to her actions.
This one is a great read because it highlights a lot of pertinent teen issues, such a bullying, body-shaming, and more. Most importantly, we get to see how people cope in the aftermath of a classmate's suicide.
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick is everything Thirteen Reasons Why isn't. Instead of saying goodbye posthumously, Leonard decides to take his last day to go around and say goodbye to the people who matter most to him. Along the way, we learn more about what drove Leonard to this point and we find out his fate. Quick's novel is another great read for those interested in how depression and suicide causes collateral damage.
Cameron and the Girls by Edward Averett, should, I think, be made into a movie soon. There are so many layers to this novel. While it focuses heavily on schizophrenia and the side effects of actively choosing to not take medication, depression is another mental illness the story highlights. In order for Cameron to go through life "normally," he has to take medication to quiet the voices in his head, but there's one voice that he actually likes. Going off of his medication has calamitous effects for Cameron. This one is a great read for guys and girls.
Schizo by Kim Firmston gives the reader a glimpse of what it's like for the child of someone with a mental illness, in this case schizophrenia. Dan's mother suffers from the illness, and the only thing keeping Dan around is his little brother. Firmston weaves a heart-wrenching story that describes just how thin the line is between a good day and a bad day for someone with a mental illness.
I hope you enjoy! Here's to breaking the stigma.
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About the Author: Whitney J.