Young adult novels have always been a great place for teens to read about the difficult issues they might be facing. That's why this genre is an excellent space for books about mental health and mental illness. There are books that just get the experience of being a teenager with a mental illness, and they tell the important stories that teens today need to know.
There are countless teenagers suffering from mental illness, and these stories show them that they are not alone in that. In a world where high school can be incredibly isolating, these books might even save lives. And, if you read the Goodreads and Amazon reviews, some of them already have. There are stories of how depression impacts those without depression, how grief can feel like a dark fog, and how anxiety can consume you. These are must-reads not just for people suffering, but for people wondering how to better understand their friends and peers.
It has long been said that reading teaches empathy, and these are nothing if not a long lesson in empathy. Here are eight books for teens that tackle mental illness in a real way.
1. Some Kind Of Happiness by Claire Legrand
When life gets to be too much, we all have our ways of escaping. For Finley Hart, it's Everwood — a fictional forest kingdom she made up and writes about in her notebooks. As reality and fantasy blend together, Finley realizes that to save the magic of her kingdom, she will also have to save herself. Claire Legrand's magical novel is the perfect blend of fantasy and reality, with a look into depression readers young and old will appreciate.
2. Mosquitoland by David Arnold
In Mosquitoland, David Arnold explores the many ways mental health and mental illness impact those around us. Mary Iris Malone is not OK, and she knows that. Her dad is remarried, her mom is nowhere to be found, and Mim feels like her life is falling apart. Her mother has been living with depression her entire life, and Mosquitoland is Mim's journey to find her way back to her mother, but also to understand her.
3. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Neal Shusterman's 2015 National Book Award winning book is an amazing portrayal of mental health. Caden Bosch thinks he's on a ship bound for Challenger Deep, the southernmost part of the Marianas Trench. But really, he is dealing with schizophrenia, and as his fantasy takes over, his parents are forced to have him committed to a mental institution. A deep and real story, Neal Shusterman shows a deep understanding of not just mental illness but the teenage experience in Challenger Deep.
4. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Sophia Kinsella is a hilarious writer, and manages to make even social anxiety kind of funny with Finding Audrey. Audrey refuses to leave the house, and she wears big black sunglasses all the time. She panics at the sound of the doorbell ringing, and won't speak out loud to strangers. It seems like things will never get better... then Audrey meets Linus, who is able to help Audrey connect to the outside world one small step at a time. A lighter take on the mental illness experience, Finding Audrey is both hilarious and real.
5. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
In More Happy Than Not, Adam Silvera shines a light on not only the ways teenagers struggle with mental health, but how they experience and often struggle with their sexuality. After his father commits suicide, Aaron Soto makes and attempt of his own. When he fails, he is determined to be happier. Or at the very least, more happy than not. He goes so far as to undergo the Lateo procedure to forget the death of his father. But memories begin emerging that show Aaron that he is grappling with more than just grief.
6. Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
John Corey Whaley takes on agoraphobia in his latest YA novel, Highly Illogical Behavior. As the title suggests, with mental illness, you can often be aware that your behavior makes no sense, but that doesn't mean that you can help it. When 16-year-old Solomon meets Lisa after not leaving the house for three years, everything is about to change for them both.
7. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
Made You Up is the story of high school senior Alex, who is unable to tell the difference between reality and delusion. Her only reliable ally is her little sister and occasionally, a Magic 8 Ball, but Alex is determined to keep her sanity, battle her schizophrenia, and get to college. But when things start taking a turn for the normal — Alex falls in love and goes to parties, even making some friends along the way — she begins to question things more than ever before. Is her new reality real?
8. The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
In The Rest Of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness tells the story of the kids on the other side of the fantasy and dystopian YA novels. The "average" kids that crazy things don't happen to. Kids like Mikey, who just want to make it through his senior year of high school, escape his crazy parents, and learn to deal with his OCD. Despite the fantastical parallels, The Rest of Us Just Live Here is a real look at what it's like to suffer from OCD.