Latest posts by Amanda Shepard (see all)
- We Need the Poetry of Andrea Gibson Now More Than Ever - January 23, 2018
- 5 YA Authors for Your 2018 Reading List - December 31, 2017
- Asexual Erasure in Television and Film Adaptations - November 26, 2017
October is Depression Awareness Month, which was created to bring awareness to depression and help reduce the stigma surrounding it in the media. The month’s purpose is to educate the public on depression, to both help recognize it in themselves and in loved ones. In a society where healthcare is slowly being taken away from those who desperately need it, especially when it comes to mental illness, it’s important to understand depression and how it can best be treated. Under an administration that can easily take away reproductive healthcare for thousands of women, people need to stay educated on the issues surrounding depression and mental illness in general.
Young adult literature often gets a bad rap in the media because many people believe that it lacks the complexity of adult literature. Ruth Graham summed up this notion best in her article for Slate: “But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something.” Yes, there are bad young adult books that have possibly tarnished the reputation of other books, but many young adult books that are published now deal with complex issues in a way that feels very real for teens, especially in terms of mental illness. Some of the best books that I’ve read about anxiety, schizophrenia, OCD, and other mental illnesses have come from the young adult genre, making them great options to raise awareness about depression and mental illness. Reading young adult literature during Depression Awareness Month presents readers with portrayals that instill understanding and empathy.
Though not all young adult books deal with these issues gracefully (like the backlash that Thirteen Reasons Why received after the Netflix adaptation premiered), there is a plethora of young adult books that get it right. In an age where mental illness is often negatively portrayed in the media, it is important to have books and media that portray this topic with accuracy and sensitivity. In honor of Depression Awareness Month, here are five young adult books that accurately represent what it means to have depression.
Theodore Finch and Violet Markley meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, saving each other from jumping off. After, they’re paired up for a school project to discover the natural wonders of their state, and they quickly form a close friendship. But as Violet slowly comes to terms with her depression, Finch is slowly getting swallowed by the darkness. Told in alternating chapters, Niven is able to put many teens’ feelings and emotions into words they couldn’t figure out themselves. The characters are believable, and their experiences are ones that people need to be able to see in the books they read.
Mim Malone has been living in Mississippi with her father and stepmother, forced into medication she doesn’t want under her stepmother’s orders. But when she learns her biological mom is sick back in Ohio, she hops on a bus. On her way home, she picks up some fellow travelers dealing with their own demons, and the three make their way together to Mim’s final destination. All of the characters David Arnold has created in this book felt real and relatable because they aren’t perfect; they have flaws just like everyone else. He also tackles the topic of mental illness and medication with grace.
Struggling with eating disorders, Lia and Cassie are locked in a deadly competition to see who can be the skinniest. But when it costs Cassie her life, Lia feels haunted by her best friend’s spirit—especially since she missed Cassie’s calls right before she took her own life. Laurie Halse Anderson is known for not backing away from difficult issues, and Lia’s journey in Wintergirls is dark, but still offers hope. While depression and eating disorders are not always linked, Anderson does an excellent job showing how each affects young teen girls, and how effective it can be to just reach out to someone who you know is struggling. Anderson portrays a girl’s struggle toward recovery, a struggle that many teens (and adults) will be able to relate to.
The pressure to get into one of the elite schools in New York City pushes Craig to nearly kill himself one night. Instead, he checks himself into a mental hospital in hopes to overcome his anxious tendencies. Writing from personal experience, Ned Vizzini explores the unlikely road that some take in order to get to happiness. Many young adult books shy away from the portrayal of mental hospitals or make them seem dark and unhelpful, which allows Craig’s positive experience in getting the help he needs to stand out from the rest.
Leonard Peacock is on a mission to say goodbye to the four most important people in his life before killing his former best friend and then himself. As he says goodbye to each, he starts to reveal the secrets that led to him to this decision. Matthew Quick follows Leonard’s thought process as he draws closer to the event, fully describing the hurt and brokenness he feels. Quick, as usual, deals honestly and realistically with mental illness, creating a story that’s relatable for those that might find themselves on the outskirts of society, fully encompassing Leonard’s feelings of heartbreak.
Positive portrayals of mental illness are vastly important in showing teens—and adults—that what they’re feeling is valid and that they are not alone. In a society where mental illness is often stigmatized in the media and healthcare for mental illness is often lacking because it’s not covered by many insurance plans, having realistic and valid portrayals helps to slowly change the way others view mental illness. These portrayals might even inspire readers to reach out and seek help themselves.
If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, remember that you are not alone, and the following resources can help.