Warning: This article mentions suicide and sexual assault.
According to Mind, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year in England, so it’s more important than ever that representations within the media are accurate.
Good or bad, mental illness has been present in fiction for hundreds of years. Take Bertha in Jane Eyre for example; she clearly suffered from mental illness but being locked away in an attic is not the best depiction.
Thankfully, we have got a lot better at portraying mental illnesses as society has become more accepting, and understanding, of it. Here’s BLOT’s list of five books that portray mental illness well to get you started:
1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is Gail Honeyman’s debut book that was published in 2017 and was the winner of the Costa Debut Novel Award. It follows Eleanor Oliphant, a 29-year-old finance clerk who’s never really felt like she fit in.
Due to her traumatic past, she struggles socially and becomes enamoured with a singer, who she believes she is destined to be with. This leads her down a dark path into loneliness and depression, which Honeyman portrays in a poignant and raw way. Through therapy, Eleanor begins to understand her past better, develop relationships, and start building the path to a happier life.
The book is realistic and emotional, showing how easily mental illness can take over your life but how there is also light at the end of the tunnel
2. Normal People by Sally Rooney
Normal People is a 2019 novel by Irish author, Sally Rooney. Selling over a million copies, it quickly became a bestseller and a favourite among young people. It follows the lives of two damaged teenagers, Marianne and Connell, who struggle with communication as they grow up.
When Connell goes to university, he struggles with depression and loneliness after the jump from secondary school. The book portrays mental illness among men very well: the struggle to communicate and the struggle to open-up and tell someone how you are feeling.
Moving to a new place and feeling disconnected and unsure of yourself is something that a lot of young people struggle with and can relate to in this book.
3. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
All the Bright Places is a Young Adult Fiction novel by Jennifer Niven. Two teenagers, Violent and Finch, both climb the school bell tower at the same time, planning to take their own lives. They become unlikely friends as they work together on a school project.
Violet is a popular girl who is secretly dealing with survivor’s remorse, and Finch is a boy obsessed with death, labelled a freak by his peers. Exploring mental health, stigma and suicide, the book is a raw portrayal of mental illness experienced by young adults.
4. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is the heaviest on our list. Originally published under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas” in 1963, the novel is semi-autobiographical with the names of places and people changed. It follows the main character Esther as she suffers from a depressive episode and ends up hospitalised because of it. The book takes a darker turn when Esther tries to take her own life and her condition worsens. However, it’s a very powerful and non-sensationalized depiction of depression.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming-of-age novel by Stephen Chbosky. It explores the themes of trauma and mental illness. There is a lot of verbal, physical and sexual abuse that is depicted in the novel as the protagonist Charlie, was sexually assaulted by his Aunt at a young age and struggles with it as he grows up.
It’s a heavy book that explores a variety of mental illnesses and topics including suicide, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia. At the end, Charlie realises his problems are valid and he is allowed to feel the way that he does. It’s a realistic portrayal of mental illness and dealing with past trauma when growing up.
If you liked this post then read Teen Sick Lit: A genre of the greated loves turned greated tragedies or “Reading helped me understand my mental illness” Why mental health representation in books matters next.
Maddy is a journalism student who enjoys writing about culture, entertainment and the arts. If she’s not reading a book, you’ll find her listening to Taylor Swift. She’s passionate about books that reflect what’s going on in society and lead us to ask important questions about the world around us.
Favourite genres: Contemporary Fiction and Romance.