5 Books That Shine A Light On Mental Health Issues & Show Why Awareness Is Important

In order to raise support and awareness of mental health issues, here are 5 books you can read that feature discussions of mental health or characters with mental illnesses.

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*Content Warning: This article has mentions of mental health issues and features content that may be triggering to some readers*

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. Mental health issues are hard-hitting, difficult, and close to the heart for many people. One coping skill for mental health issues is reminding oneself that you are not alone in your struggles. Reading a book with mental illness representation can be comforting for some, yet tough for others. Either way, books that feature mental illness are extremely important in making others aware and educated on these topics. There are plenty of great books that discuss mental health or feature characters with mental health issues. Here are some of our recommendations. 

1. Turtles All The Way Down By John Green 

Cover of "Turtles All The Way Down" by #1 Bestselling Author of "The Fault in Our Stars," John Green

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In this novel, 16-year-old Aza finds herself on a search for a fugitive billionaire alongside her best friend Daisy. Aza struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which, for her, comes with spiraling thoughts and fear that she isn’t real. Its pages can be comforting whether it’s through seeing yourself in the characters or simply learning more about mental illness. The book’s portrayal of mental health is realistic and shines a light on a disorder that is often misrepresented. If you read and enjoy this book, look out for HBO Max’s film adaptation that is filming now

TW: self-harm, disordered eating, death of a parent, intrusive thoughts, and depersonalization

2. Sparrow By Sarah Moon

Cover of "Sparrow" by Sarah Moon.

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Sparrow Cooke has social anxiety and has always had a hard time making friends. So, when the one teacher who understood her is killed in a car accident, Sparrow’s world unravels. She often pictures herself with the birds, away from everything that freaks her out on land. When she is found on the roof, everyone assumes it was a suicide attempt. Thus begins a journey of therapy, a mom who is trying her best, and… rock music? With the help of a therapist and a discovery of a creative outlet, Sparrow begins to find reasons to not fly away.

TW: mentions of suicide and hospital stays

3. Little & Lion By Brandy Colbert

Cover of "Little & Lion: A Novel" by Brandy Colbert

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Suzette is a 16-year-old bisexual black Jew. Her older brother Lionel has bipolar disorder. While Suzette is home from boarding school for the summer, she must confront how she has been affected by her brother’s diagnosis, the homophobia she endured at school, and the fact that she and her brother have a crush on the same girl. With a diverse cast of characters and an intriguing plot, Colbert conveys misconceptions about mental illness and having an intersectional identity.

TW: self-harm, racism, homophobia, ableism 

4. A Quiet Kind of Thunder By Sara Barnard

Cover of "A Quiet Kind of Thunder" by Sara Barnard.

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This coming-of-age novel follows Steffi, an anxious teen that has trouble speaking in public. She knows a little bit of British Sign Language, so she is assigned to look after a new student, Rhys, who is deaf. As their friendship grows and they learn how to communicate with each other, Steffi’s social life begins to expand. Rhys does not care that Steffi does not talk and Steffi feels like she has finally found someone that understands her. Through this growing bond, Steffi might be able to finally find her voice. 

TW: ableism, car accident, grief, divorce, racism, and panic attacks

5. All The Bright Places By Jennifer Niven

Cover of "All The Bright Places: A Novel" by Jennifer Niven.

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Two teens, Violet and Finch, meet at the top of a belltower, both intending to commit suicide. They talk each other down from the ledge and a relationship forms. But life with mental illness is not that easy. Finch has undiagnosed bipolar disorder and his isolating family only furthers his feelings of isolation. He is also fascinated by death and different ways to die. Violet is grieving the death of her older sister. It’s a compelling story about the isolation and struggles that come with mental health struggles. This novel says it’s ok to not be ok, but it’s important to get help when you need it. 

TW: mentions/depictions of suicide, grief, car accident, and themes of depression

Mental health can be a tough journey, but it does not need to be navigated alone. For mental health resources, click here.

For some non-fiction mental health book recommendations, click here.

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