YA Book Picks for Mental Health Awareness Month


May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I think the importance of recognizing it is even clearer this year. According to the WHO, one in four people around the world will be impacted by either a mental or neurological disorder over the course of their lifetime. That means that 450 million people are dealing with one of these conditions. It's amazing to think that the most prevalent health issue worldwide is still so stigmatized and misunderstood. The importance of understanding and being open about mental health is paramount because the silence and stigma that surrounds it leaves people feeling alone, isolated, or stops them from discovering a diagnosis that will put them on the path to healing.
Books play an important role in spreading both empathy and understanding. They allow the reader to live fully in someone else's experience and more deeply understand what it's like for other people. They dispel the idea that people battling these diseases are broken, weird, or strange, and they prove to those struggling that there are options to get help. That it can get better. It's so important for teens to both see themselves and see other experiences, especially if they don't live in households that have open conversations around mental health.
These kinds of books have been a major focus of my blog over the last three years, so I have a ton of favorites. I've passionately championed many of these over the years and made many lists to highlight them. I wanted this list to be a bit different. This means that tons of my favorites aren't included because I've talked about them a ton in the last year, and I want to make sure I keep giving new recommendations. If you're looking for more, check out my other major list with books I don't mention here, My Safe Space Books post.
My focus for today is representing as many different experiences and mental health disorders as possible, and I encourage you to choose a book from each. Even within a single category, the diversity of symptoms, experiences, and treatments are varied. Reading widely is the ultimate path to understanding. This post features a mix of new and backlist books and each one is linked by the title to my review so you can learn more.

Anxiety
According to the ADAA, "Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year." There are many different kinds of anxiety, and I tried to choose books that offered a glimpse into a variety of experiences.

I immediately connected with Maeve when I picked up this book three years ago. Her brain has a nasty habit of holding on to death stats. She knows all the dangerous things and is always thinking about the ways she could die. It's stopped her from driving, among other things. (I liked that this element was pointed out and shows up with many characters on this list. Yes, it's possible. Not every teen is desperate to drive, and the issues around it often run deeper than parents might understand). She even drafts obituaries in her head. Maeve's story focuses on learning to cope with anxiety in the midst of her life being upended. 

In Starfish, Kiko, the main character, deals with social anxiety that makes it hard for her to interact with the world. There are many difficult issues at play, but it is exacerbated by her narcissistic mother's constant verbal attacks on her. What I appreciated about this book is that as Kiko heals, gets out of her situation, and comes into her own, her anxious impulses don't go away. She just learns how to manage and control them. I thought that was an important element to include because those with clinical anxiety never stop having anxious thoughts, and that expectation can be damaging. Learning to manage helps immensely though. 

Ari represents another face of anxiety. It wasn't always a major presence in his life, but mounting pressure from school, college applications, and the overwhelming expectation that he should be perfect starts to damage his mental health. From panic attacks to dips into depression, the immense pressure of school can completely alter a student's life. The negative effects of schools on their students really does need to be explored more.

Verona Comics
Ridley's anxiety looks a lot like mine. He has generalized anxiety that Jennifer Dugan illustrates well with his stream of unhelpful, random thoughts. It makes it hard for him to participate in social situations, and figuring out the right thing to say often gets so overwhelming that nothing ends up coming out. Some days, he's better at overcoming the unhelpful, running editorial than others, but the author captures the ever presence and influence of anxiety quite well. 

Depression
Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined
Ingrid's life is upended when her opera singer mother's voice failed. Throughout the difficult time, Ingrid sinks further into herself until her mother sends her to a three week camp for troubled teens in the wilderness. It's less than ideal, but it might be a change she actually needs.

Nice Try Jane Sinner
Jane left her high school after an incident to finish the last of her credits at community college. Even though she's not a college student, her classmates embrace her, and she lies her way into a student reality show project. Even with the distractions of her fresh start, Jane still has to confront the depression that lead her there.

Eliza and Her Monsters
Eliza lives in her online world. She's the creator of a successful web comic that has tons of fan online. At school, though, she's lonely, isolated, and called a freak. Her battle depression causes an internal tug of war as her self-worth is bolstered by her creations and decimated by her regular life. Making connections to help, but it's hard for her to trust and to want to let people in. The new kid is set on trying, though.

Imagine Us Happy
Stella was battling with intense depression before she met Kevin. Her life feels like it's imploding, and she doesn't know how to take charge of the problems she faces. The problem is only made worse when her new relationship with Kevin turns toxic. Although they aren't good for each other, Stella fights with everything she has to keep them together. If she wants to heal, she has to learn to let go of her past and of people who shouldn't be in her life anymore.

This new release takes a very honest look at what it means to get help for mental illness. Will has anxiety and panic attacks that he got diagnosed early on. He has a supportive family, though they encourage him to hide his anxiety and avoid medication. Still, being able to go to therapy has helped him greatly. Jocelyn's family doesn't talk about those kinds of issues. Even as she feels like she's drowning in a darkness she doesn't understand, she doesn't know where she could go for help. Will recognizes her depression, but even as he encourages her to get help, she has to fight her internal biases to accept it.

Schizophrenia 
Schizophrenia is one of the more underrepresented categories in YA books. It's also the most stigmatized and misunderstood. Medication plays an imperative role in the treatment process, and that is emphasized throughout the book. It also shows how finding the right treatment is a lot of difficult trial and error. Not every drug works for every person. Adam was a great character to follow. He's hilarious, and it's great to also see his parent's support. I also liked that it was told in journal form, in letters to his therapist, which allowed us to really get in his head.

Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar is another widely misunderstood, and often glamorized, mental illness. Finding quality representation that doesn't fall into romanticization can be tricky because, as glowing as people can seem during mania, it is a truly destructive state, and the depression side is also debilitating.  
When the book starts, Mel is struggling with her recent bipolar diagnosis. It has run in her family, so it's not necessarily surprising, but she has to discover what that means to her. Lindstrom shows the difficulty in finding the right mix of medication and therapy and the ups and downs when it comes to management. Most of all, though, Mel is never defined by the disorder. She has a full life with family and friends outside of managing her symptoms, and that's super important to showcase. 

OCD
I've talked about this book a lot because I personally identified with it a lot. Lennon suffers from OCD, which is made worse by having to move in with her dad suddenly after her mom's passing. She worries if she doesn't do her ritual tapping or flicking the light switch a certain number of times, her loved ones will die. I loved that the book put an emphasis on therapy helping her work through her struggles and on showing both good and bad days because there is a constant push and pull. 

While Lennon's OCD focuses on preventing death, Aza is plagued by other kinds of control questions like if she really controls her brain, and if she doesn't, what does that mean? Mostly, it manifests in a fear around the bacteria in and around her which leads to skin picking and compulsive cleaning. Green blends the reality of all encompassing intrusive thoughts with a story of friendship and ominous mystery. Even if you're not a fan of Green's other books, this own voices story is a departure from his previous books.

PTSD
PTSD is most widely associated with soldiers who return from combat. While they do make up a large number of cases, there are many other traumatic events that can induce PTSD. These two books show that. 
This book completely blew me away. It's the last book I read in a single sitting. I didn't get up once. I couldn't stop reading. Both Mara and her best friend Hannah have experienced a sexual assault in the past. While the intertwining of the plot is hard to explain quickly, they both spend the book grappling with what happened to them and fighting for a sense of normalcy through the flashbacks and trauma. Blake does an amazing job of showcasing the lasting effects and pain and how it impacts both girls lives. 
This recent release delves into the far reaching effects of school shootings years after people stop paying attention. May lost her brother to the shooting and was in the band room herself when it happened. She still has flashbacks, particularly around loud, sudden noises. May has rearranged her life in an attempt to cope and limit her exposure to different triggers. Lawson does an amazing job showing the painful realities and the long road to learning to cope with the PTSD symptoms. 

Grief 
You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone
Tovah and Adina both know they might have genetic markers for a predisposition to Huntington's disease. Their mother is slowly declining because of it. Now that they're 18, genetic testing can reveal  their fate. As the twins rustle with the choice, they worry and grieve for the parts of their mother they lose every day and that they might be on that same path. Each girl reacts differently, but the stress leaves a major impact on both of them. 

How To Make Friends With The Dark
Kathleen Glasgow always writes stunning novels that take on mental health topics. I would completely recommend her other novel, Girl In Pieces, as well. This book deals with crushing grief and uncertainty after Tiger loses her mother, the only relative she really has. It also deals with the foster system and other major issues. Mostly, though, Tiger's grief and its impact bursts off the page to pull at your heart.

Links of Interest:
We Were Promised Spotlights
Conan Gray's Kid Krow Meets YA
Breath Like Water
End of The Driveway: Original Story 

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