Spreading awareness about mental health is something I am incredibly passionate about. I have to say, I’m SO PROUD of how far society has come. Looking back on even the last 5 years, I feel we’ve made such progress in our understanding and I want us to continue fighting ignorance in 2018! This week is Mental Health Awareness Week so to do my part, I’ve got a topical blog post for you today.
In the last few years, publishers have been producing more and more intelligent and positive YA books featuring mental health which makes my heart SUPER HAPPY. If you’re looking for a book on depression, for instance, they’re pretty easy to find and you have a number to choose from. There are also quite a few books on bipolar disorder and eating disorders – even generalised anxiety disorder, which I had previously struggled to find any books on whatsoever (even when I was actively searching for them!), has now been spotlighted in some fabulous novels.
(All the Bright Places features depression )
However, I have been mulling over something for a while, which is, do we have a diverse representation of mental health conditions in literature? Are there any conditions that I wish authors would write about either out of interest or to spread further awareness? The answer is, absolutely! There are SO many conditions that are not as widely known about or have yet to be explored fully which I think would benefit from being highlighted.
So, below are some disorders I’d like to see represented more in literature!
Definition: Someone who experiences auditory or visual hallucinations and delusions making it difficult to distinguish what is real and what is not.
Schizophrenia is something that is portrayed quite a lot in films, TV series and books, but the way it is represented is often problematic. Movies like to portray those with the disorder as murders and serial killers, presenting a skewed view. While this is something that can happen from a mix of biopsychosocial risk factors it’s certainly not the norm.
I would love to see books featuring this disorder set in more everyday situations where an individual is trying to deal with their symptoms alongside going to school and having a social life. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia is one book that’s been on my radar for a while that might fill this void, so I’m looking forward to trying it out! BUT WE NEED MORE TO FIGHT THE STIGMA OF U.S CRIME SHOWS.
Definition: A subtype of anxiety disorders where someone fears being in places or situations where they may not be able to get out or seek help.
Most people tend to think of agoraphobia as a condition where people are scared to leave the house – this can be the case, but not necessarily. Agoraphobia can also be avoidance of particular situations that cause fear and make a person feel trapped, such as public transport (where you may not be able to get off), large crowds (which may make leaving a room difficult) or being alone (where you cannot rely on others to help you out of a situation). Because of this, people normally experience panic attacks due to fear and catastrophising the situation, which creates a cycle – they then become more scared because they may have a panic attack in a place they cannot leave. This means their world gets smaller and smaller.
I’ve read a few great books on anxiety now, but none on agoraphobia and I have yet to find one! I feel like it would be such a good topic because a) awareness b) there’s a lot of misconception about the condition and c) the thinking behind what causes it can be SO complex and I feel that it would make for some amazing character exploration.
(Am I Normal Yet features anxiety and OCD)
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Definition: A person with a distorted self-image who seeks excessive self-admiration, has a desperate need be viewed as powerful, and lacks empathy for others.
We often throw the word narcissistic around in everyday life aimed at someone we think is arrogant or praises themselves a little too much, but not many of us tend to think of it as a disorder. Narcissists are extremely manipulative and constantly look for validation of their importance, but underneath most research argues they have a severe sense of inadequacy, and its that pull and push that creates conflict.
I have never read a novel featuring someone with a narcissistic personality disorder, but I feel it could be something worth highlighting. With the rise of social media which is sometimes linked to a rise in narcissism, it would be fascinating if you had a YA book about a narcissistic teen who is internet famous on Instagram or Youtube, but would struggle to create or form friendships with others due to lack of empathy. Plus, what would they do and how would they react it their virtual tower crumbled?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Definition: Characterised by obsessive negative and intrusive thoughts and uncontrollable repetitive behaviours.
Again, I’ve come across a couple of books that focus on OCD now, but there’s definitely not enough and I feel there’s a real gap in its portrayal. OCD is the most common condition that gets me on my soapbox for a major rant because it is a really serious disorder that is often trivialised (‘OMG, I’m so OCD!’). Most people think of OCD as people who are obsessed with being tidy, ordered and germ free leading to repetitive/obsessive cleaning. However, there is SO much more to this disorder, and it can manifest in many different ways. For instance, some people with OCD do repetitive checking such as turning a key 50 times before they leave the house and think if they don’t complete it someone they love may be harmed, for others, the repetition is a re-occurring thought as opposed to an action, such as constantly thinking they’re going to do something bad.
As a psychology graduate and a reader, this is a particular area I have a real interest in due to the complex thinking behind the behaviour, and as a mental health advocate, I would be so happy to see more awareness about this condition being spread by YA books, because we’re such a powerful community!
(The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B features OCD)
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Definition: Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, DIS is when someone may feel they have different identities within themselves that may behave differently, be a different age, or gender.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is very rare, and like Schizophrenia is often misrepresented in movies and TV as being linked to serial killer storylines. I think they like to use it because it allows them to have an unreliable narrator, or put in a dramatic plot twist for a ‘whodunnit’. Those with DIS may suffer from amnesia or have breaks in their memory, and their personalities can often be in conflict e.g. one may be risk-taker while another is meek.
I would love to read some YA books with a character suffering from dissociative identity disorder because other forms of media often use it as a gimmick, focusing on the different identities rather than the reasons behind why they’re developed, and the practicalities of living life with the condition. For instance, as a teen, how would you navigate a school? Would different personalities have different friendships? Would one be studious and another always bunking off? It would be really tough to manage.
17 thoughts on “5 Mental Health Conditions I’d Like to See Represented in YA Books”
I’d like to see a book on internet addiction. I think there’s a whole world out there that hasn’t been touched…
Anything is on the table these days for YA. It’s come a long way.
That would be cool!
I completely agree. I’m so glad I got be in the generation that gets to experience that change, it’s so exciting to see what YA authors will come up with next!
With reference to schizophrenia, I was going to send you a link for “Challenger Deep” by Neil Shusterman, but it looks like you already have it on your TBR.
From a storytelling point of view, some of these would be hard to write with the sufferer as a first-person narrative. I know from the person I’ve known with NPD, it would be hard as a reader to empathise, to not make them the “villain” (for want of a better phrase) of the work.
I believe you *need* to be in your characters heads as a writer, and these are aren’t places you’d want to explore for a year or more without making sure it wasn’t affecting your own mental health.
Ah, that’s interesting. I added Challenger Deep because I kept seeing so many good reviews and knew it featured MH, but I didn’t realise it featured Schizophrenia, that’s awesome. Thank you for reminding me that it’s on my TBR because I’m going to have a book buying spree soon!
Yes absolutely agree. Some of these would be tough to write about. For dissociative personality disorder, I think it would be really cool to have chapters from the point of view of each identity type, that would be cool. With something like NPD, it would be good to have a dual narrative which allows you to see how warped the person’s thinking really is. For NPD – I actually love reading about characters I hate (which may be weird) I find it fascinating to read about someone which such a different viewpoint to my own.
Hm, that is a good point. It must be really tough for a writer to live within a world for so long when exploring these topics!
I have Challenger Deep on my list next, after I’m done with my current Dickens (and I get paid again!)
Well, enjoy, and make sure you let me know what you think!!
It’s not YA, but you should check out a 1950s movie called “The Three Faces of Eve” about a woman with DIS.
Would someone with DIS be “aware” of the other personalities?
Oooh, okay. I’ve never heard of that. I’ll look it up!
Most people are aware that they have DIS, however, how they perceive it can be very different. Some see it as distinct personalities and talk about them as if they are different people – because of this they can feel a real loss of control struggling with amnesia at points, others see it as different facets of their personality and more of a dissociative state.
I’d definitely like to see more mental illnesses explored in YA novels – it can really help to read a book with a character that is facing similar issues to what you’re going through, and it’s also important so other people can get a better understanding of the condition!
Absolutely! I love learning more about a condition through reading about a character with a condition. It really adds that emotional element as well which makes you really want to understand and find out more.
Hmm. I wonder if Room by Emma Donoghue would fall under Agrophobia?
DIS is so fascinating to me! I’ve actually started entertaining a story with a character like that, especially after watching the movie SPLIT. Buuut I need to finish all my other projects first, haha.
Ah! That’s a good point. It definitely has elements of agoraphobia along with PTSD. I LOVED that book, so powerful!
No way really? THAT’S SO AWESOME. If it ever gets completed, let me know! 😀
Just listened to a really interesting ted talks on animal mental health , thought you might like to check out these guys books/talks
Laurel braitmen ,her book animal madness sounds good
And Fran’s de waal’s talk was very interesting so I guess his books…
He mentions selfless acts in the primates he studies, I would like to read / listen to more on that part of his research.
Thank you NPR for your ted radio hr
Oh wow, that sounds really interesting! Thanks for the rec. I’ve never really thought about animals having mental health. Definitely going to check that out. Thanks!
It would be good to hear your opinion on whether compassion is / should be , a selfless act.
If you ever get the chance to listen to waal’s talk.
Becky, this post is fantastic! I completely agree with you, some mental health conditions are totally blown out of proportion or glamorized in a bad way in media for the sake of plot, and I’d love to see some more realistic portrayals of conditions like schizophrenia and DID. My fiance was a psychology major and I’m always asking him questions about if a portrayal of a mental health condition in a book is common/accurate, and his answer is usually no!
Thanks, Cristina, I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed it! Depression and bipolar disorder particularly can be glamorised in books and films (it definitely links in with that manic pixie dream girl trope), while many of the other mentioned here are demonised as being always linked with crime.
I think it’s so great that you chat with your fiance about mental health representations in books, I’d love to be able to have a debate like that with my other half! I bet it would be really interesting with your different perspectives.