I am a big advocate for positive representation of mental health and mental illnesses. People who have mental illnesses, and the mental illnesses themselves, are often misunderstood and misportrayed in the media. One of my very wise Psychology lecturers, who was a very esteemed clinical psychologist, said something that has stuck with me ever since: Sometimes the stigma of mental illnesses can be more debilitating than the mental illnesses themselves.
Today, I want to share with you some fantastic books that have positive portrayals of mental illness. For me, the good books are the ones that:
- portray mental illness in a sensitive manner
- encompasses the emotions, struggles, and difficulties that come with mental illness
- are well-researched and are not based on stereotypes or sensationalism
- provide a holistic picture of the individual’s life
- the mental illness is not ‘fixed’ by a romance
Without further ado, here are my top four books that portray mental illness right.
1. CHALLENGER DEEP BY NEAL SHUSTERMAN
I love Challenger Deep, friends. Not only was it compelling and so fantastically written, but it was an excellent portrayal of schizophrenia. Move over Made You Up – let Challenger Deep take the wheel.
Why you should read Challenger Deep:
- Features an unreliable narrator with one of the most compelling voices I have read to date and has a very important story to tell.
- Challenger Deep has a protagonist that has schizophrenia, and the way schizophrenia is portrayed is humanizing, sensitive, and well-researched.
- Explores how his mental illness gradually takes over his life, and how he learns to cope and live with it.
- The narrative pulls you in head-first so that you experience the protagonist’s confusion and fear and uncertainty alongside his delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.
- It has an ultimately hopeful message despite the raw honesty of its portrayal of mental illness.
2. CHARM & STRANGE BY STEPHANIE KUEHN
Charm & Strange was a book I picked up on a whim, and I have loved every book by Kuehn ever since.
Why you should read Charm & Strange:
- It has an unreliable narrator – one with a terrible secret that is tearing him from inside and out.
- Has the tone of a dark, psychological thriller, but underneath it is a very raw and emotional portrayal of a boy who is suffering from a mental disorder.
- The narrative is incredible – all at once heartbreaking, mysterious and deep, but sensitive and thoughtful.
- Bonus: Stephanie Kuehn has a doctorate in clinical psychology.
3. MORE HAPPY THAN NOT BY ADAM SILVERA
Reading More Happy Than Not may break your heart, but it’s also a breath of fresh air. And I loved this book, friends, and I hope all of you will read it and find out why this book is incredible. (Also, Adam Silvera is a fantastic writer.)
Why you should read More Happy Than Not:
- Depression and suicide are explored in a meaningful and honest way – with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- It also explores poverty, family, friendship, and how they can affect and shape mental health.
- As above, the topics explored in More Happy Than Not are dark, painful, and very sad, but Silvera handles them flawlessly.
- The book also offers a cultural analysis of happiness, and why it matters.
4. HIGHLY ILLOGICAL BEHAVIOUR BY JOHN COREY WHALEY
Jenna recommended me this book – and with good reason. So I hope you guys will read and love this gem too.
Why you should read Highly Illogical Behaviour:
- It has one of the most endearing and lovable protagonists, ever. You’ll fall in love with Sol!
- The protagonist also has agoraphobia, which is portrayed with sincerity and in a way that is down-to-earth.
- Even with its lighthearted and humorous tone, Highly Illogical Behaviour is a thoughtful examination on friendship and having a mental illness.
- Also raises (and answers) the question of who saves who when dealing with mental illness.
Looking over the books I have read, it’s clear that I need to actively search and read even more books that explore mental illness. I still have a lot to learn, and I hope I’ll be able to find some new fantastic books so I can share another round of books about mental health and mental illness!
So friends, tell me:
- What are some of your favourite books about mental health and mental illness?
- Do you have any recommendations?
- Why do you think it’s important to portray mental illness realistically?
- Is there even a ‘right’ way to portray mental illnesses?
Let me know in the comments below!
Have a wonderful day everyone – and happy reading!