World Mental Health Day – 8 Books Depicting Mental Illness

As you all may know, I am a huge advocate for mental health awareness. So when I saw a post on Rae’s Reads and Reviews all about books featuring mental illness, since today is World Mental Health Day, I realized I could easily do the same. Here are some of my favorite books about various mental health conditions. (And you should definitely check out Rae’s list as well, because we only have one book in common!)

I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

This novel is an #OwnVoices story by a nonbinary author about Ben, a nonbinary senior in high school who gets kicked our of the house when they come out to their parents. Throughout the book, Ben struggles with major anxiety and some measure of depression, which are at least partially brought on by the abusive words and actions of their parents. Ben has multiple panic attacks throughout the book, rendered in painful detail, and goes through a period where they can’t even muster the willpower to get out of bed and go to school. Heartbreaking though that aspect may be, the book also presents an uplifting message about friendship, the real meaning of family, and acceptance.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Another #OwnVoices story, written by one of the kings of YA fiction. The protagonist of the book is Aza, a teenager with both OCD and anxiety. John Green drew from his own personal experiences with both conditions while writing this book, saying that part of his goal was to remove the romanticized image of mental illness that the media sometimes paints. I attended a stop on his book tour for this one, where he talked about how it has always bothered him that there are so many stories out there where detectives have OCD or at least some symptoms of it, and it is considered a good thing, while in his experience, the hyper-fixation that comes with the condition is not easy to control and would more likely be a hindrance than a help in solving a case. To that end, he set Aza on her own personal mission to solve a mystery, simultaneously confronting the difficulties that OCD causes in her daily life.

As an aside, though I don’t suffer from OCD, I have a history of both anxiety and pretty severe depression, and I thought this book was the best depiction I’ve ever read of thought spirals and intrusive thoughts. At times, it was almost hard to read, because it so closely mirrored my own experiences with those phenomena, but I think that that representation is incredibly important.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Hey, a nonfiction title! Jenny Lawson chronicles, with equal parts hilarity and heart, her history of problems including severe anxiety, depression, self-harm, dermatillomania, and more, in a collection of essays and short narratives. She does have some serious moments, but a lot of the collection is filled with a sort of dark and/or self-deprecating humor, because let’s face it: sometimes, laughing is the only way to keep from crying.

I listened to the audiobook of this one, read by the author herself, and her voice really brought it to life and literally made me laugh out loud more than once. The audiobook also has a bonus chapter at the end about introversion, so I would for sure recommend that route if you’re into consuming stories with your ears, not just your eyes. (That was such a weird way to say “if you like audiobooks,” but I stand by it.)

If My Body Could Speak by Blythe Baird

Whoa, another nonfiction one? This poetry collection by debut poet Blythe Baird (who, incidentally, is about my age, in her early twenties, so like, holy crap) tackles a lot of major issues including trauma, PTSD, sexual assault, anxiety, and body image, especially her own history with eating disorders. One of the most famous poems from the book is one that she performed on YouTube called “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny,” and I would strongly recommend you take a listen, because it is AMAZING.

The Future by Neil Hilborn

Okay, guess this list is taking a turn toward nonfiction. Here’s a poetry collection from the incredible Neil Hilborn. You may know him as the writer/performer of the poem “OCD,” which went viral and is now the most-watched poem on the entire internet. In addition to OCD, Neil has struggled with bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. I’ve actually met this guy–the spoken word poetry group I was in in college got him to come and perform at an event–and he is great. Super genuine person, very funny, and very kind and understanding.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Yep, a YA fantasy that ALSO includes mental illness. While I won’t say who, there are major characters in this book with PTSD, a learning disability, and implied ADHD. Seriously, if you haven’t read this one yet, just do it. There is so much to love.

Family Don’t End With Blood, edited by Lynn Zubernis

This one is for all you Supernatural fans (incidentally, I can’t believe the final season starts tonight!). In this collection, the cast, crew, and fans of the show talk about the ways that Supernatural has changed their lives. Among other things, the contributors write about the show and the fandom helping them with social anxiety and addiction. The most significant one, though, is from Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester) about his personal struggles with depression, including the time he had a breakdown while filming back in one of the early seasons of the show. In the past several years, Jared has started running the Always Keep Fighting campaign, selling shirts and other apparel to raise money for various mental health charities. (I own an embarrassingly large number of them, but I regret nothing.) Talk about using fame as a platform to do good!

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Let’s wrap this list up with a classic about a young woman sinking deep into the depths of depression and her battle to recover. While Sylvia Plath’s life was cut tragically short by suicide, her work remains as a painful testament to the realities of just how much mental illness can tear apart your life and your very sense of self.

Bonus: Sounds Fake, But Okay (podcast)

This isn’t a book, but it is a stellar podcast where an aro-ace girl and her straight roommate talk about everything to do with love, relationships, sexuality, and pretty much anything else they don’t understand. Both hosts discuss their personal histories of mental illness in multiple episodes, mostly focusing on anxiety and depression. Plus, I’m a sucker for all ace representation, which has nothing to do with mental illness but is a topic I feel strongly about. You can listen on Spotify, Soundcloud, and most podcast apps, or check out their website here.

That’s all for now, folks. What are your favorite mental health-related books? Read any of these? Let me know. And remember to take care of yourselves πŸ’œ

Much love,

Kathryn (“K-Specks”)


8 thoughts on “World Mental Health Day – 8 Books Depicting Mental Illness

  1. Shyla Fairfax-Owen October 10, 2019 / 2:01 pm

    Thank you for this post! So useful. I recommend Fangirl. Bipolar disorder, social anxiety and learning disabilities, all responsibly featured.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryn Speckels October 10, 2019 / 2:04 pm

      Oh, didn’t even think of this one when I made the list! I read it earlier this year and enjoyed it a lot, especially the bipolar and learning disability rep, because they are so rarely featured.


  2. dinipandareads October 10, 2019 / 11:07 pm

    I’ve been wanting to read Furiously Happy for a long time but I can never find it! Also, I remember the first time I watched OCD and omg, I started crying haha so powerful but I think I also loved the audience’s reactions to the end of his poem because it was like OH MAN, THAT’S REAL πŸ˜‚ I have a feeling I’m now going to watch/listen to this poem all day πŸ˜…I really love this post! Thanks for sharing these recs, Kathryn πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathryn Speckels October 13, 2019 / 6:50 pm

      Of course! Neil actually has two books of poetry. The Future is his newest one, but his older one is called Our Numbered Days and is also excellent. Would definitely recommend both of them; he is such a compelling writer and performer (and I don’t blame you for wanting to watch it over and over!)


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