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Mental Health in YA books

July 26th, 2019

As authors, we owe it to our readers to present a realistic, inclusive world. Whether we have an own voices story to tell, or our experience comes from research, it is important that readers can see themselves in a book. Recently, this has meant ensuring diversity is included as well as LGBTQ+, disability, chronic illness and mental health, to name a few.

The diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions is still in its infancy and we have a long way to go before the stigma is erased. One of the key changes should be, in my opinion, the very title “mental health,” which can promote negative responses. In turn, people hide away their concerns and doubts and don’t get the help they need.

Our teenage years can be some of the most emotional and impressionable, as not only our bodies go through significant changes, but so does the development of our brains. Therefore, it is especially important that we shine a light on the problems teenagers face and show them how to fight their way through.

During these sensitive years, teenagers often clamp down on their emotions, are unable to find the words to talk about how they are feeling or are just plain embarrassed about having a problem. Many avoid seeking help. If we, as authors, can show them support in books, to make them feel a little less alone, to normalize their condition, then it’s an important and responsible role.

Teens may look for a non-fiction self-help books to deal with their mental health condition, a contemporary novel to read about someone just like them in today’s world, or a horror or fantasy that is one step removed. All are equally important. More and more books are emerging that deal with topics from eating disorders to dissociate identity disorder. And even more importantly, the mental illness isn’t the primary focus of the book, but merely a part of the character. The message here: You don’t have to be fixed.

For my own novel, The Shadow Keepers, I’ve chosen a contemporary horror setting in which to explore mental illness. Part support book for teens and part cathartic writing to deal with my own issues, the novel allows teenagers to recognize themselves in the pages of the book, but also to not take themselves too seriously. The horror setting shows that people with mental health conditions can be strong. They, too, can fight the bad guys. And they can win.

No two experiences of mental illness are the same. And while I can write about my own, it will be very different from the next author or reader. But I hope that the more authors include these very normal, human conditions, the more teens will speak out and become willing to get the right help. To embrace their condition with pride and look for the positives it can bring.

 

Marisa Noelle is the writer of MG & YA SFF & mental health novels. The Shadow Keepers is due out July 2019, The Unadjusteds in November 2019 & The Mermaid Chronicles – Secrets of the Deep at the end of 2019. When she’s not writing or reading or watching movies, she enjoys swimming. In the pool she likes to imagine she could be a mermaid and become part of some of her make-believe words. In the water, she can ignore the real world and focus on the plots of new novels and scenes. She lives in Woking, UK with her husband and three children.

 

 

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