Mental illness is something that affects many people, either directly or through someone they know. The Canadian Mental Health Association states that 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness personally. With schizophrenia and bipolar disorder each affecting 1% of the population, anxiety disorders affecting 5%, and depression affecting 8% of the adult population and 17% of the youth population (aged 12 to 19), mental illnesses are getting more attention. This fact is shown in the amount of novels published about various mental illnesses. Though there are many books you can read that will give you some perspective on what it may be like to live with a mental illness, these are five that I couldn’t put down.
Freaks Like Us by Susan Vaught (Schizophrenia)
Jason, a high school senior with schizophrenia, gives us his perspective in the book Freaks Like Us. Initially, this book can be confusing to read. The story switches between the present and Jason’s scattered memories (which he tries to block out, making the transitions even more jarring). Reading through Freaks Like Us gives you some insight into the struggles Jason faces, when he is unable to trust his memories and no one around him trusts them either. This book shows schizophrenia in a way that doesn’t distance the reader from the story.
Crazy by Amy Reed (Bi-Polar)
Though the size of this book may seem daunting (367 pages), it’s told through a series of e-mails shared between Connor and Izzy, making the book seem extremely fast-paced. From reading the e-mail exchanges, it becomes clear that Izzy’s mood changes a lot and you can see Connor’s concern for her throughout. Moving through Izzy’s manic and depressive episodes, the reader can get a sense of Izzy’s experience with her disorder, as well as the experience Connor has, as someone who cares for Izzy.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
The story follows Hayley’s senior year at a new high school, after moving back to live with her father in his hometown. Hayley has been dealing with her father’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) since he returned from Iraq. Dealing with his PTSD often means moving from place to place for Hayley as her father attempts to overcome the memories that haunt him. The Impossible Knife of Memory puts an emphasis on Hayley’s struggles to help her father confront his PTSD so that they can have a stable home life.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (Depression)
will grayson, one of the two protagonists (both named Will Grayson), is a high school student living with depression. The story is told through alternating chapters, switching between the two Will Graysons, giving you parallel high school experiences. will grayson’s depression is seen throughout his half of the story and it gives you an idea of the way depression permeates someone’s thoughts and changes their perception of themselves and their lives.
The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti (Anxiety/Panic Attacks)
With an interesting overarching story and a ton of cool animal facts, Jade’s mental illness does not take center stage in this story. Jade has anxiety, causing her to have panic attacks when she is triggered by something. Her first panic attack happens three years before the beginning of the book, so Jade is now able to manage her panic attacks when they happen. Throughout the novel it is easy to understand Jade’s thoughts about her anxiety, as well as her experience when having a panic attack. Though this book doesn’t go too deep into the psychological side of anxiety, it does show how Jade deals with her panic attacks.
Monika is the Marketing Director/Social Media for On the Danforth, summer issue. When she isn’t buried in a book, she spends most her time checking out various events in Toronto and turning her life into article pitches. You can check out her twitter here.