Importance of Mental Health in Books

With May coming to an end, and with it Mental Health Awareness Month, I decided to make my final discussion post this month about why it’s important to show mental illness and topics related to mental health in books. I’m going to focus mainly on how these types of books have helped me personally, but I’d love if you all added other ways these books could be helpful in the comments (whether based on personal experience or not).

I’ve always loved and appreciated books that deal with tough topics, like mental illness, abuse, or rape. These things so often go unspoken in our society that it makes those who have experienced them isolate themselves and bottle up all of their pain. It makes them hesitant or scared to reach out and get help. It makes them suffer more than they need to.

I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety since I was in 7th grade (I’m 21 now), but never really acknowledged that I was dealing with those things until I was 20. I just started seeing a therapist and getting help in February – almost a decade after I first started experiencing problems with my mental health. It’s always been incredibly difficult for me to admit, both to myself and others, that I’m depressed and anxious (I won’t go into all the different reasons why because this post would end up being a novel). But books that showed characters who were depressed or had anxiety were (and still are) an immense comfort to me.

When I was in middle school and high school, I devoured books that dealt with mental illness. They helped me understand what it was that I was experiencing. They helped me realize that I wasn’t making it up and that there are other people – fictional and real – who deal with the same things I do. They helped me feel less broken, even when I didn’t feel brave enough to tell anyone how much I was struggling.

Anyone who thinks that it’s unimportant to show mental illness in media, whether it be in books, TV shows, or movies, has quite simply never felt alone or abnormal because of mental illness. Having representation of mentally ill characters is immensely important. It can help others understand what they are experiencing and help them know they aren’t alone in experiencing these things, like books with mentally ill characters did for me. By showing characters who struggle with mental health issues, we can help create a dialogue around mental health that will, in turn, help people open up and reach out to get the treatment they need and deserve.

Even if you are not experiencing your own mental health issues, these books can still be incredibly helpful and important. They can help you get a glimpse of what it’s like to live with mental illness (especially #ownvoices books). Reading these books can help you empathize with people who are going through these things, which can help you support anyone you know who may need it. They help open the dialogue so that even if you are not personally experiencing it, you can learn about it and have a less stigmatized and stereotypical view of what it’s like to be mentally ill.

My hope is that books continue to explore what it’s like to live with mental illness. Depression and eating disorders seem to be fairly well-represented in YA (and I hope they continue to be), but I’d love to see more books with characters with other mental illnesses as well so that teens (and anyone else) can see characters who are like them and find comfort and understanding in books the way that I have.

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8 thoughts on “Importance of Mental Health in Books

  1. Great post! You’re so right. We need more books that deal with tough topics because real people have real problems. I hate when the characters lives are perfect. I’ve had anxiety since forever, so I know what that’s like. I think it’s awesome that you were brave enough to share your own personal experiences. I’m constantly in search anymore for books with these topics. I read one about a girl that was raped two days ago. It was really good. You gave me a few recs I still need to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For the past few years I haven’t been reading these types of books, but I’ve recently been wanting to read them again. I think next time I go to the library I’m going to try to find some more. It’s always really comforting to me when characters are dealing with the same things that I am. It makes the story so much more relatable and makes me feel more “normal.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like to see that in books, too. I wish more authors would write books that deal with tough topics instead of dance around them. That reminds me I need to start borrowing books from the library again. I keep forgetting they have ebooks, then waste money on mediocre books I could’ve checked out.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic post!

    Mental health is such an important issue and there definitely needs to be more accurate representation for it. I appreciate that there seems to be more and more books coming out, but so many of them give such a bad portrayal. I can not stand books were the MC overcomes their issues because they meet their love interest. I want to see books where they show relapses and bad days and that you’re not going to be cured instantly. I also wish there were more books about less common mental illnesses like schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t stand it when mental illness is “cured” because the character finds a love interest. It’s soooo unrealistic. Books that more accurately show what treatment/recovery is like would be great. I’d also like to see more books where therapists and medications aren’t portrayed as “bad” or unnecessary as I think that will just discourage readers from actually getting help.

      Like

      • Same here! It makes no sense because for people who have a strong genetic component to their mental illness, they may not be able to learn how to cope with it without medication. And shaming them for taking it is so unfair and basically is telling them that they should have to suffer even though there are ways that they can make things easier for themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

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