Media surrounding mental health can often misrepresent certain illnesses. Books on mental health are often written to dramatize symptoms or to fit them into stereotypes of what it means to be a person struggling with a mental illness. I personally love to read, and books about mental illnesses are a big part of what I enjoy reading. However, I have realized how these accounts rarely include the hardest parts of getting through daily life or are written from an outside perspective that also misses the mark.
Over the course of my reading journey, I have managed to find some books that I believe capture mental illnesses better. Each one portrays a character that actually goes through these struggles, the good and bad, or shows the experiences of someone watching a person they love struggle.
This book is one of my favorites that shows, through a teenage girl’s eyes, what it is like to battle a mental illness in daily life. The main character, Charlotte Davis, struggles with self-harm and was a long-term victim of abuse. We see her navigate her experience while committed to a mental hospital and the struggles of adjusting back to a life outside. Getting out is not an easy fix for Charlotte. She relapses, struggles and eventually gets out on the other side. The storytelling is honest and raw in describing the obstacles that Charlotte deals with. It is an important read about the battles people can go through in living with an active mental illness. But it is also a story of strength and learning how to cope with what life throws you. Ultimately, Charlotte is able to rebuild her life slowly, even though she hits many bumps in the road.
This inclusion is probably cause for a few questions in how exactly it represents mental health well. I mean, it is a brutal read about a deranged serial killer. But that is not the part that I appreciate. Most people have seen or heard of the movie. However, much of pop culture discourse lacks the depth that Ellis was able to reach in what some would consider the ‘slower’ parts of this novel. The deep descriptions of routines, outfits, and thoughts about the outside world gives readers detailed insight into how someone with intense daily struggle could view the world and navigate life. The obsessions with image and deep-rooted insecurities show just how challenging it is to be someone that has a skewed perception of a world where they must always be the best.
This book is one of my favorite books that I have ever read. It shows alleged abuse pushing teenage girls to turn into rebellious kids. The characters search for any possible way to escape their suffocating home lives even if it includes misuse of drugs, alcohol and sex. It also does a phenomenal job of showing the ignorance someone watching from the outside can possess about the struggles that someone is going through. The name of the novel stems from the five Lisbon girls all committing suicide within a year of each other. While the reader can clearly see what is happening to them at home, the ignorant teenage boys who narrate the story clearly cannot. It is a wonderful read with beautiful language and a heartbreaking message about girls who deserved a wonderful life but were failed by abusive parents and sex-obsessed teenage boys. It is one of the best books that I have ever read, leaving me in deep thought for weeks.
This book is written by the father of a drug addict. It is heart wrenching, raw, and depicts what it is like to watch someone sink deeper into an addiction while feeling hopeless about helping them. Sheff navigates us through the beautiful boy he raised and how drug use turned him into an unrecognizable person who stole money from his younger brother to get an easy fix. This is, thankfully, also a story of redemption and getting clean. But many of the important messages come from the narrations of watching a child struggle with addiction. It gives readers an understanding of how hard it is to support a person who is addicted to drugs and how sometimes it takes them being left on their own to finally turn their life around and get clean.
These novels and the way they depict mental illness are important to me. I believe in the importance of understanding how people think and feel during their best and worst times, and I appreciate books that provide readers with knowledge about navigating life with a disease of the mind.