Trigger Warning: The mention of certain content and topics in this article may be triggering to some readers, including depression, eating disorders, mental health, illness, and suicidal thoughts. Please exercise personal care when reading.
Over the last decade, the growth in YA books about mental health is hard to overlook. It’s always been there, in part because writing about adolescents in any capacity means exploring a social group that is a cocktail of hormones that causes them tremendous physical, emotional, intellectual, and mental changes in a short time frame. But talking openly about mental health in YA books has seen an increase as the category of books has grown, too.
The books below deal with addiction, eating disorders, depression, schizophrenia, and more, as experienced by the teen main characters. Also included are books where the teen main character lives with or is close to someone who struggles with their mental health. This, too, is a reality of teen life today.
Made You Up by Francesca Zappia
Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
Audrey can’t leave the house. she can’t even take off her dark glasses inside the house.
An anxiety disorder disrupts fourteen-year-old Audrey’s daily life. She has been making slow but steady progress with Dr. Sarah. But when Audrey meets Linus, her brother’s gaming teammate, she is energized. She connects with him. Audrey can talk through her fears with Linus in a way she’s never been able to do with anyone before. As their friendship deepens and her recovery gains momentum, a sweet romantic connection develops, one that helps not just Audrey but also her entire family.
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
An innovative, inspiring, and heartbreakingly romantic debut novel that unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, and illustrations, Everything Everything will make you laugh, cry, and feel everything in between.
My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla. But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean, and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.Everything Everything, Nicola Yoon
Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.
Elena Vanishing: A Memoir by Elena and Clare Dunkle
Seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing. Every day means renewed determination, so every day means fewer calories. This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety becomes artillery against herself as she battles on both sides of a lose-lose war in a struggle with anorexia.
Told entirely from Elena’s perspective over a five-year period and co-written with her mother, award-winning author Clare B. Dunkle, Elena’s memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at a deadly disease and a must-read for anyone who knows someone suffering from an eating disorder.
Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming—especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.
Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.
Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Ambitious New York City teenager Craig Gilner is determined to succeed in life—which means getting into the right high school to get into the right job. But once Craig aces his way into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, the pressure becomes unbearable. He stops eating and sleeping until, one night, he nearly kills himself.
Craig’s suicidal episode gets him checked into a mental hospital, where his new neighbors include a transsexual sex addict, a girl who has scarred her own face with scissors, and the self-elected President Armelio. There, Craig is finally able to confront the sources of his anxiety.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Aza Holmes never intended to pursue the disappearance of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her best and most fearless friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Pickett’s son Davis.
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
This masterpiece, which released on World Mental Health Day last year, hits home with its authentic portrayal of mental illness. Aza’s daily experiences with severe anxiety are expressed through her obsessive and compulsive thoughts using the beautiful and painfully accurate metaphor of a downward spiral. Despite the presence of an integral external plot and romance, this YA novel focuses on Aza’s internal struggle and makes sure that readers understand what mental illness must feel like
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.
As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?
Underwater by Marisa Reichardt
Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive—first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then herself.
But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school.
When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside.
Life Inside My Mind edited by Jessica Burkhart
Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t get out of bed? Not the occasional morning, but every single day? Do you find yourself listening to a voice in your head that says “You’re not good enough,” “not good-looking enough,” “not thin enough,” or “not smart enough?” Have you ever found yourself unable to do homework or pay attention in class unless everything is “just so” on your desk? Everyone has had days like that, but what if you have them every day?
You’re not alone. Millions of people are going through similar things. And many of them are people you know—you know them because they write the books that you’re reading.
Life Inside My Mind is an anthology of true-life events from writers of this generation, for this generation. It takes aim at ending the shame of mental illness.
If you or someone you know is battling with mental health-related distress, we urge you to be kind and hold space for them, and contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (confidential, free, available 24/7/365):
→ Call or text 988
→ Chat at 988lifeline.org
→ Connect with a trained crisis counselor
For poetry that tastefully discusses mental health and illness, click here!