World Mental Health Day Recommendations

Hi fellow book lovers,

In lieu of my usual review posts, today I wanted to write about something a little different, in honour of World Mental Health Day. Mental health is an issue I’ve dealt with personally for many years, after being diagnosed with depression and social anxiety disorder in my late teens. It’s also something I’ve seen effect many of the people around me. Statistics suggest that 1 in 5 Australians experience mental health issues and over 3 million of us suffer from anxiety or depression. So today I thought I’d discuss some books which helped me deal with my own mental illness. These aren’t necessarily books that taught me something, they’re just books that I thought portrayed accurate depictions of anxiety and depression, and therefore helped me feel less alone.

Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Goodreads synopsis:

At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

Why I loved it:

I feel like it’s quite uncommon to find a mental health themed book that is both hopeful and realistic. Usually, we either have a main character whose problems are magically solved when they meet a cute boy / girl (e.g. Finding Audrey), or a bleak and depressing story that warns us about the heartbreak that suicide can cause (e.g. Thirteen Reasons Why). Under Rose Tainted Skies is one of the few books I’ve read that manages to strike a balance between realism and hopefulness. While Norah does find love, it doesn’t necessarily make her life better. She still has plenty of issues, but her newfound romance helps to motivate her towards reaching her goals in getting better. I also loved the positive relationship between Norah and her mother. Norah’s mother was supportive, caring and yet, not overprotective. She was there when Norah needed her, but she also gave her daughter enough room to spread her wings and explore.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Goodreads synopsis: 

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

Why I loved it:

I don’t think I’ve ever in my life felt so understood as when I did when I read this book. John Green has always been open about his own struggles with OCD and mental illness, and I feel that his personal experiences enrich the book with an immense sense of realism and depth. It’s pretty clear that a character like Aza wasn’t written by someone with just second hand knowledge of anxiety. Aza could only be created by an author who understands what it’s like to find that their greatest obstacle in life isn’t something that’s happening to or around them; it’s the thoughts that spiral out of control in their own head that are most difficult challenge to face. Turtles All the Way Down can be quite a dark book, and there are definitely scenes that readers may find upsetting. However, for me, Aza is undoubtedly the most accurately written depiction of what it’s like to struggle with mental health issues, and it’s definitely a book I found comfort in.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Goodreads synopsis:

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Eleanor & Park. A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Why I loved it:

Fangirl is a bit different to the first two books I listed in that it doesn’t discuss mental health in a particularly explicit way. It’s clear from quiet early in the book that Cath and Wren’s father struggles with his mental health, though his condition is never labelled. And though it’s not clearly stated, I’d argue that neither Cath or Wren are particularly mentally healthy. There are scenes in which Cath lives off muesli bars because she doesn’t understand how her college’s dining hall system works, and each night she literally runs home from the library because she’s scared of walking alone. Honestly, both of these actions strike me as something I’d do because of my social anxiety. What I most loved about this book though, is that Cath deals with her issues by turning to literature and fandom, much as I do myself. Thus I found Cath to be an extremely easy character to relate to. However, I do wish Rowell had discussed Cath’s obvious anxiety in a more open way. I would have liked to have seen her acknowledge her issues and get help, rather than simply continuing to live her life in spite of them.

Though none of these books are “perfect”, they’re all books that mean a lot to me. And I’ve found each of them to be a great source of comfort. But don’t forget, if you’re concerned that you, or someone close to you is experiencing difficulties with their mental health, there are plenty of real life places you can turn to for help. If you need more information, I’d recommend checking out a website like BeyondBlue, and most importantly, talking to your GP.

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