May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), good health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not just the absence of disease or infirmity – taking care of our brains is important for a healthy. Every year, countless numbers of teenagers all over the world face the reality of living with mental illness and often, in some cases, it goes unnoticed by the family and friends around them. Teenagers are usually quiet about these particular problems and avoid seeking professional help.
It is undeniable that the pandemic is having an impact on our mental health. Therefore, this year, the theme for Mental Health Awareness Months is nature, as people spend more time reconnecting with nature during lockdown. Nature, growing flowers, taking care of plants or even walking in nature, helps people get through this anxiety-provoking situation.
To raise awareness of this problem, unfortunately still strongly stigmatized in certain communities, particularly Asian communities, it is essential to talk about it and understand the “behaviour” of mental illnesses and how they affect an individual.
To better imagine what it is like to live with a mental disorder, or to encourage those who find it difficult to speak up and seek help, I recommend reading the books listed below – they describe the stories of people living with mental disorders and how they struggle with mental illness in their daily lives. Moreover, reading is a peaceful habit that can help disconnect from this harsh reality and the hell of mental disorders.
Also, if you are someone who struggles, first of all you are not alone, your feelings are valid and hang in there, you will be fine. You can talk to someone you trust and ask for help.
Here are some books to read on mental health:
1. Turtles All Along by John Green
Release date: October 10, 2017
Topic: OCD, anxiety
“Your now is not your forever.” — Turtles all the way down
This book is about mental illness and delves into the mind of a 16-year-old American high school student with OCD and anxiety, Aza Holmes. Aza’s obsessive-compulsive disorder affects all areas of her life and is constantly on her mind. John Green talks about his own struggles with OCD in this book.
“I had to write with enough distance from myself for it to go well, for it to feel safe. And so Aza has somewhat different homes from his obsessive preoccupations,” he said. , explaining that “it was really difficult, especially in the beginning, to write about this thing that has been such a big part of my life.
Green writes as the first person in this book that allows readers to immerse themselves in the mind of Aza: to experience a shadow of the weight of the obsessive concerns, worries, and panics that constantly race through his mind. Books like these can help destigmatize mental health disorders through educating discussions. Although the novel is not just about mental illness, it also includes mystery, romance, and the importance and nuance of friendship.
2. In Search of Alaska by John Green
WARNING: SEXUALLY EXPLICIT!!!
Release date: March 3, 2005 (originally released)
Subject: Depression and suicide
Another recommendation from John Green since I’m a big fan of his YA novels.
“She loved mysteries so much that she became one.” – Looking For Alaska
Looking For Alaska helps us see the world through the eyes of Alaska, the main character. This novel also demonstrates the power and importance that death, suffering and misfortune have in life. Following the traumatic death of her mother, Alaska struggles to let go of the sadness associated with that particular day. Based on Alaska’s erratic behavior and research by Pudge aka Miles Halter and the Colonel, it appears that Alaska was suffering from some form of depression.
In the United States, about 11% of people under the age of 18 have a depressive disorder, and like in Alaska, many go undiagnosed.
The book is often praised for its realistic depiction of teenage depression and In Search of Alaska includes great tragedy, it ultimately helps us learn that the key to overcoming the hardships life will throw at us is forgiveness. After all, it’s the only way out of this maze of suffering.
3. Winter Girls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Release date: March 19, 2009
Subject: Eating Disorders
“Who wants to recover? It took me years to get this little one. I was not sick; I was strong.” – Wintergirls
The novel revolves around the death of Lia, the main character, Cassie’s best friend who was bulimic; and Lia thought about what she could have done differently to save her best friend’s life.
Lia thinks her anorexic disorder and self-harm give her control. She has already undergone rehab and therapy and has been hospitalized twice. She doesn’t want to go back to the psychiatric hospital, but she continues to starve.
Eventually, Lia seeks help for her problems, knowing the healing process will be difficult, but she decided she wanted to live.
Wintergirls is a well-written in-depth book and I recommend reading it only if you are mentally strong and feel like you can get through this book as it contains horrific and detailed scenes of self-harm and anorexia.
4. This Is My Love Brain by IW Gregorio
Release date: April 14, 2020
Topic: Depression, Anxiety
This novel is told in 2 POV, Jocelyn Wu and Will Domencici. Jocelyn is a Chinese American while Will is a Nigerian American.
The story revolves around them working together in Jocelyn’s dad’s business and eventually falling in love with each other, but it’s complicated since her dad doesn’t want them dating him. Both teens deal with insecurities and mental health issues. Will begins to notice that Jocelyn is suffering from depression while he himself is struggling with an anxiety disorder.
The novel importantly addresses race relations and mental health within the Asian American community. This book seemed so real that it was not difficult to identify with the characters. Also, it shows that even though people cannot “fix” others, they can surely be their support and get them to seek help.
PSA: You’ll want to eat dumplings at some point in this book
5. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Release date: January 6, 2015
Subject: bipolar disorder
“Your hope lies in accepting your life as it is now in front of you, forever changed. If you can do this, the peace you seek will follow. Never changed. I am changed forever. – All The Bright Places
In this novel, Violet mourns the death of the sister and her classmate, and Finch stops her from attempting suicide.
All the Bright Places gives us an accurate depiction of how difficult it is to reinvent yourself after a tragedy. It also shows that Violet and Finch’s relationship isn’t just about love, but rather the importance of having someone who will be there for you to open up without judgment. When we bottle up our feelings, we only take ourselves away from healing. It’s when we begin to open up to others and talk about our struggles that we can take a step closer to the healing process.
Later, we see Finch trying to control his simmering rage and dark thoughts – his symptoms referencing bipolar disorder. The way Violet and Finch deal with their issues is palpable. On the contrary, All the Bright Places understands that each person has their own way of dealing with mental illness.
(The ending might make you cry)
Living with a mental illness is difficult and can affect various areas of your life. By seeking help, you are one step closer to being treated.
“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Remember that taking medication is not a sign of weakness.
Things you can do to improve your mental health
Take up a hobby.
Practice self-love, forgiveness, and gratitude daily.
Value yourself and your body.
Get rid of toxic friendships and relationships.
Set realistic goals.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
Reward yourself for your accomplishments.
You can start keeping a journal to track your daily habits and moods.
Run a hot bath.
Do something outside of your comfort zone.
Go for a walk in nature.
Take the time to recharge your batteries.
Let it all hang out if you’re having trouble. Write about it on paper or tell a close friend or family member.
Use daily affirmations to start your day.
Set a sleep schedule.