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  • Youth Mental Health Association

How Books Break Barriers

Ever since I was child, I’ve fostered a great love for reading. Growing up reading has and continues to be an anchor in my life that never ceases to help me navigate through dark and difficult times. In a way, it’s allowed me to escape the walls of my small world and mindlessly roam through different versions of reality. Consuming stories has not only expanded the horizons of my imagination, but also in the ways that I perceive and understand other people. Getting lost in a world other than your own, vicariously presents you with new perspectives and insight into experiences beyond your own. And in turn, provides readers with an eye to recognize the importance of transforming passive and intimate topics of discourse into ones that are instead active and casually conversed from a place inspired by empathy and understanding. This is especially critical surrounding the discourse of said ‘sensitive’ subjects such as mental health, to which society has conditioned us to probe silently. The stigmas that encircle the talk of mental health hinders people who are vulnerable from seeking help and enables them from being subjected to acts of microaggression. Through education these built barriers can be decolonized and together we can create safe spaces to relearn what we know about mental health. Now, how can we accomplish such a feat? The first step is of course, to unlearn what we know and re-educate ourselves, our friends and families and what better way than through the eyes of literature?

Book Recommendations: Mental Health Representation

Notes on a Nervous Planet - by Matt Haig

Content Warning: Anxiety, Depression

Genres: Self-Help, Non-Fiction, Memoir, Mental Health, Psychology

About: Notes on a Nervous Planet is a collection of observations on modern life,

exploring the role of social, commercial and technological “advancements” that feed our daily anxieties, and hinder our happiness. From examining social, political and environment facets, Haig provides invaluable revelations on how to live a better life.

Reasons to Stay Alive - by Matt Haig

Content Warning: Depression, Suicide

Genre: Self-Help, Non-Fiction, Memoir, Mental Health, Psychology

About: Reasons to Stay Alive explores the life of renown author Matt Haig and

his inspiring account on how he copes with the debilitations of

depression. This frank memoir recounts Haig’s moments of misery feeling

daunted by the hopelessness of depression. Yet minute by minute

and day by day, we follow Haig’s journey as he finds triumph in his tribulations with the help of his loved ones, and the small joys in his life. Through it all Haig strongly stands by the cliché that “there is always light at the end of the tunnel” and therefore, always reasons to stay alive.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story - Ted Vinnizi

Content Warning: Depression, Suicide, Disordered Eating, Addiction, Self-Harm

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

About: It’s Kind of A Funny Story follows the life of Craig, a modern-day

teenager, whose life has become jaded and dull, plagued by the

unending stresses and expectations of growing up. No longer able

to cope with his worsening depression, Craig contemplates how effortless it would be to simply end it all and commit suicide. Fortunately, against his intruvise thoughts he calls a suicide hotline, and is admitted into a psychiatric hospital. As he is about to enter the ward for teens, it has unexpectedly closed down and he is forced to reside with the adult patients, where he meets an interesting group of people and finds a well of wisdom along the way.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

Content Warning: Depression, Suicide, Abuse, Rape, Addiction

Genre: Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Mental Health, Literary Fiction

About: Eleanor Oliphant is a social outcast. She struggles to grapple with the

appropriate skills for socializing and often speaks far too bluntly for the

comfort of others. Ostracized for being ‘weird,’ Eleanor isolates and

protects herself by strictly following an unchanging regimen: working

weekdays, avoiding any opportunities for social interaction, weekend

frozen pizzas, followed by vodka and weekly calls with her mother. Until

one day, she meets Raymond, the exuberant and bubbly IT guy from her

office, who she begrudgingly befriends. As their lives collide and entangle

with one another, Eleanor’s world upends and catalyzes her journey to

discovering the beauty of life.

Wintergirls - by Laurie Halse Anderson

Content Warning: Eating Disorders, Self Harm, Death, Depression

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Mental Health

About: Lia and Cassie are best friends and rivals, wintergirls frozen in fragile

bodies, competing in a life-threatening competition to see who can be the thinnest. Until Cassie is overwhelmed with the consequences of her disorder, and now Lia is left, all by herself, haunted by her friend’s memory, struck with grief and guilt, and the afterthought that perhaps she could have done more to save her. Halse’s narrative follows Lia struggling to find hope in her painful and desperate path to recovery, Wintergirls is a glimpse into the horrifying and dangerous realities about eating disorders.

By Laura Choi

YMHA Contributor

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