Books as a Mirror for Attitudes toward Mental Health Schizophrenia

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For Mental Health Awareness Month I wanted to make a list of books about mental health. I was done with a rough draft when I realised I didn’t like it: I hadn’t read that many YA about mental health and some pretty voracious readers are sure to post some fantastic lists.

What I do want to talk about is how YA portrays mental health issues, even when it isn’t necessarily focused on mental health.

mental health books

The first time I thought about this was when I read The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. Now, despite some problems, I liked that book. It gave me the creeps in a delicious way. Even though it is a paranormal story, there is a lot of alluding to mental health issues. Apart from the fact that Mara obviously suffers from some pretty serious PTSD, she is also being worked up for a possible diagnosis of schizophrenia/schizophreniform disorder/delusional disorder.

And here is the thing that got me: Mara learns that she is being worked up for a thought disorder. And in addition to being upset because she knows nobody believes her, she also has this painful monologue (which I can’t quote now because I don’t own the book) about how if she has this diagnosis she won’t get to finish high school, she won’t get to attend college, AND SHE WON’T HAVE A FUTURE.

After I read that, I just sat still for a while. 

Because it’s not true. And I’ll give Hodkin the benefit of the doubt that she knows this, but she also knows that the perception among the lay-population IS that your future is over when you have a mental disorder.

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I am on my second psychiatric rotation at the moment. I have seen extremely high-functioning individuals with major depression, bipolar depression and even schizophrenia. We have this image in our heads of the destitute schizophrenics not because schizophrenia itself makes people destitute, but because UNTREATED it by definition negatively affects one’s functioning in society.

A talk about schizophrenia by a high-functioning individual with schizophrenia. Fantastically explained.

Another book with something to this effect was Splintered by A.G. Howard. I didn’t love this book so much on a whole, but also enjoyed the creepy factor. In this book, Alyssa’s mother is already in a mental institution for her schizophrenia, which affects every female in her family, and which Alyssa is dreading.

I haven’t read any non-paranormal books touching on schizophrenia. I’m looking forward to reading Cameron and the Girls by Edward Averett. But I really want for media of all types to start showing the hopeful side of mental health. Mental disorders are often chronic, yes. But with help, they need not be debilitating.

Mental Health issues are still pretty scary for a lot of people. Very few people desire an official diagnosis – sometimes I think we’d rather be perpetually miserable and pretend it is normal. No parent wants to think about their child suffering a mental illness. But, just as books can be (and to a large extent, HAVE been) instrumental in fostering understanding about LGBTQ and diversity-issues, they can foster understanding of Mental Health issues. Not just so that those unaffected will understand, but so that those who are affected won’t be afraid of seeking help.

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