8 Books That Deal with Mental Health

by Sharfin Islam

A major factor of coming to terms with mental health is the realization that you are not alone, while also understanding that not everyone’s experience is the same. As the stigma around opening up about your emotional and psychological health is lifted, more people have come to accept just how much it impacts your day-to-day life and can aggravate if left unchecked. My own solace came from books that have been able to translate these indescribable feelings into delicate prose, connecting me to people and characters who I might have nothing else in common with.

This World Mental Health Day is the perfect opportunity for me to share my favourite books that have stood out to me because of the representation of mental health issues in their protagonists – real and fictional. While these are not all be eye-opening and provoking, they are still able to exhibit how much of our trouble with mental health can simmer silently and affect our relationships.

Note: Please make sure to check for trigger warnings for the following books. Triggers can affect people differently, and setting boundaries and abiding by them is the first step of self-care.

Photo: Sharfin Islam / @atinyreader

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Starting off strong with a highly emotional story about a mixed Chinese-American family dealing with the loss of their daughter. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng talks about racism, death, and responsibilities of parenthood beyond providing material necessities. While it’s labeled as a thriller in the blurb, it’s truly a portrayal of a family dealing with loss and grief. Celeste Ng’s style is deceivingly detached because this book had me alternating between being tensed and fighting back sobs. It’s a tough book to get through but does not hesitate to bring forth the stark nature of the pressure of expectations.

Photo: Sharfin Islam / @atinyreader

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven might initially seem like a young-adult romance where a fateful interaction leads to a blossoming love story. However, as the book progresses, you are able to slowly comprehend how complicated those feelings can be when they conflict with the characters’ self-image. It takes on heavy topics such as suicide and depression, especially amongst teens. More than anything, it’s also a book about young romance with a realistic portrayal of how love can’t fix everything, and the struggle of trying to take of the people you care about and feeling helpless in your attempts

Photo: Sharfin Islam / @atinyreader

Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover’s Educated is the first non-fiction book to bless this list, though it might feel no less fantastical than fiction at some points. The memoir draws the life of a girl from an extremist Mormon family who had never set foot in school until she was 17. To say that she grew up in a toxic environment would be a massive understatement. Her experiences ranged absurd to downright horrifying, though quite a few scenes had me giggling because of their outrageousness. Reading through her account as she learns to unlearn the outrages beliefs of her family gleans how persistence and resilience can lead to a better life, despite one’s upbringing.

Photo: Sharfin Islam / @atinyreader

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

It’s Kind of A Funny Story starts off slow and concerningly grows depressing. But after our protagonist’s mental breakdown reaches a peak that almost drives him to suicide, he admits himself to a psychiatric hospital, the story becomes far more engaging. Portraying the dismay and anxiety of teens dealing with the pressures of home and school, this novel outlines why it’s never okay to undermine the stress kids take on growing up. The author’s own experiences in a similar institution draws out the characters in the book that make it so diverse and interesting to read but untimely demise sadly tells a different story.

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

This second and last non-fiction book – also a memoir – that made it to this list is a recent publication that has caused quite a stir, and with a title like I’m Glad My Mom Died, who is really surprised? Although iCarly, the show she famously starred in, was past my own youth spent watching Nickelodeon, I had heard about her early retirement from acting due to the unhealthy environment that surrounded the actor. In her memoir, the 30-year-old opens up about how her mother’s obsession with her body image from her younger days developed into an eating disorder that haunted her to adulthood. And even though her writing wasn’t as ornate as a more accomplished author, in my humble opinion, the rawness was poignant and reflected the honesty and hurt that she tried to convey.

Photo: Sharfin Islam / @atinyreader

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

This may be the most triggering book on this list, and it’s not a recommendation I make lightly. My Dark Vanessa is the twist to Vladimir Nabokov’s unsettling classic, Lolita, but this time from a girl much like Lolita’s point of view. Russell does not hold back as she describes the trauma and suffering that our young protagonist went through. This book is enraging but shrewd, quite realistically portraying how it’s easy to be manipulated with promises of love and attention, so much that it blurs the line of right and wrong for the victim, and showing how these traumas can persist into adulthood, contorting one’s self worth and relationships.

Photo: Sharfin Islam / @atinyreader

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

On the surface, Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls may seem like a light middle grade fantasy, but if that were the case, it wouldn’t have made it to this list, would it? The author sets a depressing and eerie atmosphere at the very beginning, describing the daily life of a lonely thirteen year old, taking care of himself and his terminally ill mother. He then meets a “monster” whom he bonds with as he comes to term with the cancer in their family’s midst. It’s a brutally honest story of a child learning to deal with grief and change, and the courage to come to terms with losing a loved one, something even adults take years to get over. This wasn’t an easy book to read for me, but it was enlightening, understanding how difficult it is for kids to express their feelings and how differently they can react to what is expected.

Photo: Sharfin Islam / @atinyreader

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

To finish off this list, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is comparatively a light hearted novel. Contrary to the title of the book, Eleanor Oliphant – our protagonist – is not completely fine. However, it’s a sweet yet heart-wrenching story as she learns to accept her emotions and realize it’s okay to not be okay all the time. The author carefully develops a character that you’ll slowly but surely grow to love, despite your initial annoyance towards them. The book tackles dealing with grief, loneliness, and trauma, and discerns how first impressions can be very much misleading.

Photos: Sharfin Islam

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