Hi everyone! Today’s post is going to be a discussion about mental health in YA. I’ve chosen to post about this today as Monday was World Mental Health Day! Not only that, it’s also Mental Health Awareness week this week. Personally, I think mental health needs to be talked about no matter what day it is, but I love that we have a day for it!
Young Adult literature is a big influence on many teens day-to-day lives. It’s one of the places we turn to when we feel alone or just need some time out. With one in four teenagers in the U.K. experiencing suicidal thoughts and one in ten suffering with anxiety or depression, it’s more important than ever that difficult topics are discussed in Young Adult literature.
However, we still face many issues, not only with the lack of this but also with diversity. Unfortunately, many YA books are more likely to feature main characters with little to no knowledge or experience of mental health issues. One of the other main issues is disability in YA. There are very few books welcoming the subject, especially when the protagonist has a disability. One great example of going against the norm is Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom, which features a blind main character.
But things are finally changing. With campaigns and programs like We Need Diverse Books (find out more at www.weneeddiversebooks.tumblr.com), fans and bookworms are demanding authors tackle difficult topics within their writing. With popular authors like Sophie Kinsella (author of Finding Audrey) and John Green (author of Looking For Alaska) openly writing about depression, grief and social anxiety, tackling these issues is becoming slowly more common and acceptable.
Over time, diversity in YA is definitely starting to change, and hopefully will continue to in the coming months and years. But why is this likely to help YA readers?
In the media, we have a very skewed view of mental health. Suicide, self harm and substance abuse is hardly ever reported nationally or internationally, unless it involves a celebrity or public figure. This is changing, with more people sharing their experiences through blogs, articles and social media, but is still likely to be a slow process.
As YA is becoming more and more popular, so are events like conventions. The Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) is the UK’s biggest YA event, and it takes place every summer at London Film and Comic Convention. I had the privilege this year to attend, and take part in Ask YALC, an agony aunt type panel with Juno Dawson (author of Mind Your Head), Holly Bourne (author of Am I Normal Yet?) and Rosalind Jana (author of Notes On Being Teenage). The panel was hosted by Gemma Cairney, presenter of The Surgery on BBC Radio 1 and soon to be author of Open: A Toolkit for How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be. This shows that difficult subjects are being openly talked about within the YA community, and not just online.
But we do still face problems within YA – authors may be starting to recognise mental health issues, but it’s still very unclear how to relate characters stories to real life. A common example of this is that many mental health issues are solved by the protagonist finding a love interest or partner. In some instances, this is almost displayed as a long-term fix for their problems, which would not usually help in a real life situation. Many of us suffer with mental health problems alone, and are lucky if we’re surrounded by people we feel completely comfortable to talk to our issues about. Finding Audrey and When We Collided are both good examples of the love interest theory – for example, in Finding Audrey her new boyfriend manages to help Audrey come out of her shell.
Another idea is that our main characters can overcome their problems and stop taking their medication on their own. Yes, this does work for some people, but many need long term help and support through this, and for some it could even be dangerous to come off without it. Books such as When We Collided and Mosquitoland could even encourage people to attempt this.
So, what’s the next step? All in all, I’m hoping we continue on the right path. But one thing I’d love to see more of is how to deal with mental illness in real life – maybe with books showing trips to counselling and/or support groups. We still have a very long way to go, but YA is making progress all the time.
Would you like to hear more about this subject? What do you think of it?
May your shelves forever overflow with books! ☽