5 Books to Read for Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a cause that is near and dear to my heart. As a survivor of multiple mental illnesses, including schizoaffective disorder, multiple eating disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder, I am always trying to spread awareness about mental health and illness. Books have long been a comfort for me through my struggle with mental illness, and I wanted to share with you five books that address mental health and illness correctly.

So many times, books don’t portray mental health and illness well. It can be hard to find books that don’t add to the stigma surrounding mental health, but the following books resonated with me and my struggles with mental illness, as well as my experience as a mental health specialist.

While these are all difficult reads, I hope that you can find comfort and solace in their pages. They portray mental health and illness in a vibrant and painful manner that have both torn me apart and sewn me back together. Please read with caution, but my hope is that these authors might just provide you with what you need.

Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley

Mental Health Focus: Dissociative Identity Disorder, Trauma

Trigger warnings: Kidnapping, Rape, Abuse

Pretty Girl-13 is a disturbing and powerful psychological thriller about a girl who must piece together the story of her kidnapping and captivity and then piece together her own identity.

When thirteen-year-old Angela Gracie Chapman looks in the mirror, someone else looks back–a thin, pale stranger, a sixteen-year-old with haunted eyes. Angie has no memory of the past three years, years in which she was lost to the authorities, lost to her family and friends, lost even to herself. Where has she been, who has been living her life, and what is hiding behind the terrible blankness? There are secrets you can’t even tell yourself.

With a tremendous amount of courage and support from unexpected friends, Angie embarks on a journey into the darkest corners of her mind. As she unearths more and more about her past, she discovers a terrifying secret and must decide: when you remember things you wish you could forget, do you destroy the people responsible, or is there another way to feel whole again?

Liz Coley’s alarming and fascinating psychological mystery is a disturbing—and ultimately empowering—page turner about accepting our whole selves, and the healing power of courage, hope, and love.

Goodreads Synopsis

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib

Mental Health Focus: Anorexia, Eating Disorders

Trigger Warnings: In depth descriptions of eating disorder behaviors, discussion of weight

Note: If you are actively struggling with an eating disorder, this book may be too sensitive for you. When I was deep in my eating disorder, this book intensified my behaviors as I tried to mimic the behaviors of Anna. Please proceed with caution.

The chocolate went first, then the cheese, the fries, the ice cream. The bread was more difficult, but if she could just lose a little more weight, perhaps she would make the soloists’ list. Perhaps if she were lighter, danced better, tried harder, she would be good enough. Perhaps if she just ran for one more mile, lost just one more pound.

Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.

Yara Zgheib’s poetic and poignant debut novel is a haunting, intimate journey of a young woman’s struggle to reclaim her life. Every bite causes anxiety. Every flavor induces guilt. And every step Anna takes toward recovery will require strength, endurance, and the support of the girls at 17 Swann Street.

Goodreads Synopsis

The Pact by Jodi Picoult

Mental Health Focus: Depression, Trauma

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Unwanted Pregnancy

For eighteen years the Hartes and the Golds have lived next door to each other, sharing everything from Chinese food to chicken pox to carpool duty—they’ve grown so close it seems they have always been a part of each other’s lives. Parents and children alike have been best friends, so it’s no surprise that in high school Chris and Emily’s friendship blossoms into something more. They’ve been soul mates since they were born.

So when midnight calls from the hospital come in, no one is ready for the appalling truth: Emily is dead at seventeen from a gunshot wound to the head. There’s a single unspent bullet in the gun that Chris took from his father’s cabinet—a bullet that Chris tells police he intended for himself. But a local detective has doubts about the suicide pact that Chris has described.

Goodreads Synopsis

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Mental Health Focus: Depression, Anxiety

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Bullying

Her story is a phenomenon. Her life is a disaster.

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of the wildly popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves the online one, and she has no desire to try.

Then Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer, transfers to her school. Wallace thinks Eliza is just another fan, and as he draws her out of her shell, she begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile.

But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally shared with the world, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

Goodreads Synopsis

Coral by Sara Ella

Mental Health Focus: Depression, Anxiety

Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Self-Harm, Emotional Abuse, Eating Disorders, PTSD, Unwanted Advances

Coral has always been different, standing out from her mermaid sisters in a society where blending in is key. Worse yet, she fears she has been afflicted with the dreaded Disease, said to be carried by humans—emotions. Can she face the darkness long enough to surface in the light?

Above the sea, Brooke has nothing left to give. Depression and anxiety have left her feeling isolated. Forgotten. The only thing she can rely on is the numbness she finds within the cool and comforting ocean waves. If only she weren’t stuck at Fathoms—a new group therapy home that promises a second chance at life. But what’s the point of living if her soul is destined to bleed?

Merrick may be San Francisco’s golden boy, but he wants nothing more than to escape his controlling father. When his younger sister’s suicide attempt sends Merrick to his breaking point, escape becomes the only option. If he can find their mom, everything will be made right again—right?

When their worlds collide, all three will do whatever it takes to survive, and Coral might even catch a prince in the process. But what—and who—must they leave behind for life to finally begin?

Taking a new twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved—yet tragic—fairy tale, Coral explores mental health from multiple perspectives, questioning what it means to be human in a world where humanity often seems lost.

Goodreads Synopsis

If you are struggling with your mental health, you are not alone!

Please use the following resources to find the help or support that you need:

NAMI HelpLine

NAMI Support Groups

NAMI Programs and Classes

NAMI Podcasts & Webinars


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