YA Books About Mental Health that Get it Right
By Rachael Schmidtlein, Teen & Tween Services Coordinator
Let me start off by explaining that I have a weird number of friends who are nurses and a disproportionate number of those nurses work in pediatrics. Recently, one of those nurses frustratingly ranted to me about how the number of suicides they handle by people between the ages of 11 and 18 has increased exponentially since she began her career four years ago.
Medical professionals have all sorts of statistics about the correlation between suicide rates and certain times of year and other contributing factors. The sad fact of the matter is that today’s teens are experiencing mental health issues in a world where encountering mental illness comes with a stigma. Thus, we have mentally ill teens who don’t know where to find the resources to help themselves. As a teen librarian (aka professional nerd who thinks teens are awesome), I want to help.
Luckily for us, Manhattan is a place where that stigma seems to be dissipating. In the 2015 Community Needs Assessment done by the City of Manhattan, Manhattanites rated availability to mental health care among the top needs in the city. The library administration took that statistic very seriously. Keep an eye out for future programming and events at the library that help support people in need of mental health care.
In the meantime, check out this list of Young Adult books that get it right:
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness is about the kids who aren’t the chosen ones. You know, the chosen ones: the kids at school who are at the heart of every paranormal, romantic, dystopian-esque happening. This book is not their story. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is the story of the other kids, the normal kids, who are just trying to graduate from high school, avoid their parents and kiss their high school crush before the indie kids blow up the school, again. Mr. Ness does a really good job of discussing dysfunctional families, mental illness and LGBTQ relationships with humor and wit.
Sarah Dessen won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults this year. When it comes to YA books about contemporary teen issues, her titles are a great place to start. Dessen’s Just Listen tackles the hard topics of mental illness and sexual assault. The main character, Annabel, is battling a sister with a dangerous eating disorder, a family in disarray, and a horrible secret. The story leads you along the ride that Annabel takes in order to reclaim her life and her voice. Her introspection makes the journey that readers take worth it.
In I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Cody is devastated when her best friend, Meg, commits suicide. While helping pack up Meg’s things in her college town, she begins to learn that there was a lot she didn’t know about her best friend. Still not believing that her friend would end her own life, Cody decides to dig deeper into what really happened. Her journey is painful and sad but ultimately redeeming. This story is very hard to read, but even more difficult to put down; definitely a read for more mature teens.
The term “mental health” encompasses a wide variety of issues and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is often overlooked as an insignificant disability. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone tackles the difficulties of OCD head on. Samantha hides the constant stream of obsessive worries and dark thoughts beneath a perfect exterior of her popular but fake friends. A new friend offers a reprieve from the daily struggles of her disorder. The story maintains a good read while respectfully handling a mental illness that effects so many people.
If nonfiction is more your style, you should considering reading Out of Order: Young Adult Manual of Mental Illness and Recovery by Dale Carson. This title is comprehensive with a capital “C” and full of personal accounts, advice and counseling options. You really can’t go wrong with this one.