YA Fiction: Removing the Stigma of Mental Illness

The Netflix adaptation of Jay Asher's book 13 Reasons Why has got people talking about the reality of depression, suicide and the harmful things teenagers can do to each other.

YA fiction has attempted to remove the stigma, answer questions, and provide those suffering with the knowledge that they are not alone.

Mental illness affects a large number of Australians: approximately 20% every year and around 45% of us are likely to experience some form of mental illness in our lives, according to sane.org. Over a quarter of Australian adolescents are suffering right now. The facts are simple: mental illness is largely misunderstood. Too many suffer in silence, afraid of negative reactions.

If after bingeing 13 Reasons Why you find you are in need of a similar read or six then look no further, but beware, spoilers for some of the themes in 13 Reasons Why will crop up. Here are five books I recommend reading if you liked 13 Reasons Why:

Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu
Five People are sent to a therapy camp as their last chance at learning to cope with their illnesses. Thrown together they are forced to bond over the things they have in common and the stories they have to tell. The Breakfast Club for the modern teenager.

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
Mel Hannigan has bipolar disorder and she would do anything to keep it a secret from her friends, along with the truth behind her brother's death. So used to keeping everyone at arm's length, Mel struggles to let anyone in, but with her moods so hard to control her secret becomes more difficult to keep. A brilliant story of grief and hope. Through Mel we can see that Bipolar is not just a drastic flip between manic and depressive states, but many complex combinations of the two.

Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
After an almost- successful suicide attempt Charlie is sent to a mental health facility. Staying in there means she can avoid her old life, a life with unstable familial relationships, living on the street and eating from the trash. But she soon finds herself headed back out into the world. Girl In Pieces is literally the story of a broken girl trying to hold herself together and function in a world that has let her down so many times before. Powerful, heartbreaking and utterly beautiful, I dare you not to fall in love with this story. Girl Interrupted for a new generation.

Vigilante by Kady Cross
Hadley's best friend Magda was raped by the popular boys at school. They got away with it and Magda killed herself. Enraged, feeling powerless and scared for her fellow girls, Hadley decides what they need is a Vigilante to stand up for girls everywhere and to show the world that actions have consequences. Donning a pink ski mask, Hadley sets out to do just that, but vengeance is a dangerous game and secret identities are hard to keep hidden. A powerful story that all girls (and boys) should read.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Melinda was raped just before the end of the summer break at a party. Desperate for help she called the police and broke up the party. So now she's one of the most hated girls at school. No one can see her pain and Melinda won't speak up for herself. But secrets have a way of bubbling to the surface. Will she keep her pain hidden or will she finally reveal the truth? An emotional roller coaster of a book. Impossible to put down.

Cut by Patricia McCormick
Fifteen-year-old Callie is sent to the Sea Pines treatment facility (referred to as "Sick Minds" by the girls sent there for recovery) after her family discover that she self-harms. Callie doesn't speak, not even to the other "guests". An intense book which will draw you into the halls of the Sick Minds Facility.

Mental health issues are being discussed more frequently on social media thanks to the rise of organisations like To Write Love On Her Arms who are dedicated to supporting those suffering from mental illness, suicidal thoughts, and harmful addictions, as well as Young Adult fiction which paves the way for these important discussions.

Image sourced via creative commons

Sarah Ambrose

Sarah works in publishing and can often be found with a good YA book in hand. She co-runs the Instagram page @your_reality_is_an_illusion which promotes and reviews books, and is a freelance editor. You can find her at: SarahNicoleEditorial