Headspace: Book Recs Featuring Mental Illness
Growing up we all struggle. And that is normal. But some people might experience mental health issues. Problems that can’t be fixed with a good movie, crying with your best friend and chocolate ice cream. There are so many young adults experiencing mental health issues yet there is still a very big stigma. Talking about mental illnesses should be normal. In my experience, books have the power to help break the stigma. I’m so happy to introduce to you my new monthly column: “Headspace: Book Recs Featuring Mental Illness” in which I will discuss books that feature mental illnesses.
I think that we’ve come a far way: books enable us to talk about issues we’ve never talked about before. But we still have a long way to go. In my first column, I’d like to point out one of the books where it all started:
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Lucky for us, the book has just been adapted into a Netflix Original. How is it that after ten years – yes, the book was first released in October 2007! – the book is still so relevant?
For those who haven’t read the book or haven’t watched the Netflix series yet, I will explain what Thirteen Reasons Why is about. It tells the story of Clay and Hannah, two avarage high school students. After Hannah commits suicide, Clay finds cassettetapes in a shoebox at his doorstep. At first he doesn’t understand what they are, but he soon finds out Hannah recorded the thirteen reasons why she committed suicide. Thirteen people have, in some way, caused her to end her life. Hannah wants every one of them to hear what they did. Clay is number eleven.
As you can imagine, from all the mental health issues in the world, being suicidal is the one least spoken off. People don’t like to talk about other people’s pain, especially when the pain is so consuming it makes them decide to end their life. When the book was released in 2007, people were all hyped about it, just like what is happening now with the Netflix series. On the one hand people were happy that finally somebody spoke up about mental illnesses that young adults may experience. On the other hand, people were worried that it might give young adults the wrong idea and maybe even inspire them to do such a thing.
What is important is that since 2007, there has been a rise in books about mental illnesses concerning young adults. Think about Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (eating disorder), I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (depression), It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (depression/suicide), Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow (self-harm), Paperweight by Meg Haston (anorexia) and many others. This all started with Thirteen Reasons Why, a genre now called sicklit. This genre concerns physical illnesses as well, but for this column, I’m only discussing young adult books that feature mental illnesses.
I wondered: Why is the book still so relevant? Well, at first, I think in our world there is so much pressure on young people to perform well, get high grades, look good, do sports and keep up an active social life. At the same time, the internet has brought bullying home. Before the internet, bullying stayed on the playgrounds. Nowadays, it continues on the internet at home. It’s impossible to hide from. Thirteen Reasons Why discusses all that, and the Netflix Original tvshow expanded these two issues. Hannah can’t escape from her problems.
The most important thing about Thirteen Reasons Why is this: it shows us how all of these seemingly tiny things can build up to a girl killing herself. The book doesn’t shy away from anything: it discusses bullying, rape, self harm, depression and suicide. At the same time, it’s not overdramatized.
I think Thirteen Reasons Why, now that it is a tvshow and grown ups are talking about it too, will continue to impact our view of mentall illnesses and hopefully help us end the stigma.
What do you think? Do you feel like Thirteen Reasons Why made a difference? Join the conversation down below!
WARNING: If you want to watch the tvshow, please be warned. Some episodes are really graphic.
*This post was contributed by Nanouk, Staff Reviewer.
Nanouk is a 22-year old booklover from the Netherlands. She's an intern at HarperCollins Holland, has her own blog and has been reviewing books for YABC since 2014. She has a bookbuying problem and needs a bigger appartement because of it. Nanouk's favorite books are books she can cry about.