Diversity in YA: Write More About Mental Illness

Whilst LGBT issues are finally being addressed in YA, after much campaigning, isn't it time that more books were released tackling mental illness? Not with the addition of a character who washes their hands constantly or has a set of perfectly sharpened-pencils. That's a stereotype. Not with a brief mention of a classmate who once tried to commit suicide, or someone who has self-harmed. With an author writing a book about disorders such as OCD and Depression. But, why write it for the YA audience? Why is it that teenagers need to read books about such a tough-topic? I'll tell you why. Before I began to write this post, I decided to do some research, and I came across statistics about the number children who suffer from a mental illness. Ten percent do in the UK, and I couldn't believe it was such a high number. You could be sitting in class, and not realise that three of your friends are faced with the task of living with a mental illness. It's a huge number.
Diversity in YA is important for one reason: it reflects our society. We're not all one race, one religion, one sexuality. We're not all the same. I've noticed there are more books, each month, that break the boundaries; who tear down the walls between the 'perfect' characters we so often read about and the truth. Yet, I can name only a few novels that deal with mental-illness. Liz Coley's Pretty Girl Thirteen was a novel I read last summer, and still continue to recommend, it being the first time I come across Dissociative Identity Disorder. And now, I understand what those who suffer from DID experience - when it appears in a Documentary or on TV - being much more empathetic. I also read This Song Will Save Your Life recently, where author Leila Sales writes about suicide, and - having supported a friend through a similar situation before - I finally felt I could grasp how frustrated she must have felt. And I realised how wrong I was to assume it was an overreaction.
A lot of young people read novels. I hate to admit that reading isn't as popular as it used to be, but occasionally a novel will create a trend that changes that. A few months ago, this was The Fault in Our Stars, which educated young people about the effects of Cancer. It seemed like everyone was reading it; talking about it; tweeting about it. Next time, it could be a story following characters with mental-illnesses. We've all heard the "I've got OCD" statements when a person starts organising an untidy set of books, or "I'm so depressed" in the corridors after a Maths lesson. These are brushed-off as being just an expression. More books discussing these illnesses - such as anxiety - would help people realise what they are actually saying. It would help teach them - us - what happens during the worst moments in these illness; after recent events, its important that people know what sufferers have to try and overcome. It's not easy. With more coverage there's more discussion, and that's what we need. It would hand mental-health patients the respect they should have had years ago.

Young Adult is an important genre. At our age, we begin to want to know more about the world we live in; no longer wanting to read sugar-coated tales. We want to read about characters we can relate to, where the authors understand what it is like to be a teenager. We need to know that someone has been through the same situations we find ourselves in, and have made it through. Mental illness affects all of us - some not directly, but through family and friends. Whilst readers could benefit from seeing how their favourite character copes with having Depression, another may learn how to support a friend. With the recent release of OCD Soap - which has been removed from sale by Paperchase - it's clear that we more books about mental illness; read by young people who won't continue to release products we've seen recently. Books have an impact on many lives - it would be a shame to not see more authors tackle issues that are so prominent in society.

*Information(both statistics and on OCD Soap) was up-to-date when I wrote this post for scheduling. Statistics are from the Mental Health Foundation's website.

Do you think that more books need to tackle mental illness?
What other subjects should be seen more in YA?

Tell me in the comments!


  1. I couldn't agree more with the point you're making here. We live in this bubble where people try to hide away from Mental Illness and it really doesn't help us grasp what it is like for others. I suffer from Depression and Anxiety Disorder and have for five years now, and reckon that when I was first coming to terms with the fact that I have these it would have helped to read about people in similar situation

    Great post!

  2. Ooh I do agree that tackling mental illness in YA books is a great idea, but it has to be done well. It still has to be engaging and a book others will get excited about.


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